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Texas Democrats walked out of a legislative session on Sunday night, blocking an election reform bill that would have restricted voter access. Photo: Julián Castro speaks during the "Texans Rally For Our Voting Rights" event at the Texas Capitol Building on May 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas. GARY MILLER / GETTY IMAGES
Texas Democrats walked out of a legislative session on Sunday night, blocking an election reform bill that would have restricted voter access. Photo: Julián Castro speaks during the "Texans Rally For Our Voting Rights" event at the Texas Capitol Building…

Texas State Dems send a message to Congress: If this is what it takes, away with bipartisanship

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As Texas’ restrictive voter bill edged closer to passage this past weekend, President Joe Biden asked Americans to choose “country over party” and find agreement on the fundamental principles of democracy in hopes to restore bipartisanship. 

It’s hard to imagine which country the president thinks he is governing. 

With the Senate evenly divided, his major initiatives have so far faced an uphill battle, or have been altogether stalled. Yet Biden clings to dreams of bipartisanship when Republicans have already indicated they will push forward with their own agendas.

"In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote," the president said in a statement the Saturday before the Texas Legislature was set to vote.

He urged lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass laws to counter the GOP’s assault on voting rights in the United States, predominantly seen in Florida, Texas and Arizona. 

"I call again on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And I continue to call on all Americans, of every party and persuasion, to stand up for our democracy and protect the right to vote and the integrity of our election,” he said. 

The federal "For the People Act," passed the U.S. House earlier this year. It would install national voting standards that would override the restrictive measures that lawmakers in Texas tried to enact this weekend. However, Republicans have called the “For the People Act,” a veiled attempt for Democrats to actually put their razor-thin majority to action.

The John Lewis Act would reauthorize the seminal 1965 Voting Rights Act by giving the federal government fresh power to police jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination in voting administration.

To work together on issues like this, as Biden would like, would take collaboration with both parties. There’s no bipartisanship unless a considerable percentage of both parties work together to indeed put “country over party.” 

That’s not going to happen as things stand. 

Instead, Texas Democrats took it upon themselves to kill the bill for the meantime. It’s a fleeting victory, but sends a message beyond the Texas Republicans. 

The Rundown

Senate Bill 7 (SB7), which Texas Republicans finalized Saturday and the Texas Senate passed early Sunday morning, would have capped voting hours, banned drive-thru voting, added a myriad of new rules for mail-in voting, and prevented local expansion of voting options, among other measures included in the bill. 

It would have particularly affected BIPOC voters, the elderly, and disabled through new restrictions on absentee voters, and did away with 24-hour voting. 

However, when it came down to a final vote, House Democrats “broke quorum” to kill SB7.

One by one, they departed the House chamber, leaving the count 14 members short of the required 100-member quorum to continue the vote. 

The move also left several other pending bills dead on the house floor on the final day lawmakers could pass legislation. 

Texas isn’t the only place with state-level efforts to restrict voting rights by GOP lawmakers. Following Biden’s presidential victory in 2020, Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have been pursued by state-level legislators to discredit voter integrity. 

A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that at least 14 states have enacted over 20 laws, making it more difficult to vote. 

There are currently over 60 restrictive bills moving through 18 state legislatures, according to the same report, and in the 2021 legislative session alone, at least 389 restrictive bills have been introduced in 48 states.

A call to action

Texas Democrats set a precedent to take action, particularly for those BIPOC communities most at risk to be impacted by the restrictive voting measures. 

Black and Latino voters, who in 2020 took advantage of early-voting methods and 24-hour access to polling locations, are being blatantly targeted by the measures. 

In Harris County, the county with one of the largest Latino populations second only to Los Angeles County, used drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting for the first time during the 2020 election, and saw record numbers of early voters among Black and Latino populations. 

“They look at the numbers and they see whatever percentages have increased, especially among voters of color. That’s where they try to make it harder to vote,” Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez with Jolt Action, one of the largest voter advocacy groups in Texas told AL DÍA in March, when the initiatives were escalating. 

“So more voters of color voted early this election, so now they want to make it harder to vote earlier. They want to reduce hours. They saw increased numbers of people doing drive through voting, so now they want to reduce that,” she continued.

The 2020 elections saw major upsets to the Republican party, first in Arizona, and culminating in Georgia’s presidential and Senatorial flip to blue. Republicans have reason to be on the defense, but they are intentionally putting these voices at stake. 

Texas Dems set a precedent

The last time the Texas Legislature walked out to vote on a bill, it was 2003 and among them was now-Rep Joaquin Castro. 

“It was the last tool that they had to try to stop this extreme voter suppression…  And so I'm very proud of our Democratic state reps and what they did last night to try and defeat and stop this bill,” Castro told MSNBC Monday. 

Following the Texas Democrats move, it left onlookers wondering what the next steps would be, and what the federal government’s role is in the matter. Walking out of the Texas Legislature only prolonged the inevitable. 

“This is just going to continue. And Republicans are willing to change any law they need to to take away people’s right to vote. Democrats at least should be willing to change one custom, not even a law, a custom: The Filibuster, in order to protect people’s voting rights this year,” Castro continued. 

His calls echoed those of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who congratulated the Texas Democrats and called for the Senate to take action. 

“Congratulations to Democrats in Texas for protecting democracy and the right to vote. Let's see if Democrats in the U.S. Senate have the same courage. We MUST pass S. 1, the For The People Act. The future of American democracy is at stake.”

After making their show of unity against the Texas GOP, it is to be seen if Democrats across the country will join their resolve. Multiple state-level Democrats have since said they want legislators, particularly at the Capitol, where they hold the presidency and both chambers, reports The Washington Post. 

What stands in the way is the Filibuster and the two Democrats opposed to reforming its rules: Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kristen Sinema (D-AZ). 

To eliminate the filibuster, it would take a simple majority of every Senate Democrat, plus Vice President Harris to break a potential tie. 

It’s why the Texas Democrats’ victory is fleeting: there’s still work to do. 

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