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Texas Republicans asked their Democratic colleagues to please not call them racist on Thursday—then pushed forward a voting suppression bill aimed squarely at making it harder for Black and Hispanic urban voters to cast their ballots.
“The chair would appreciate members not using the word ‘racism’ this afternoon,” Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said as the legislature kicked off debate on the contentious bill.
But in the eyes of Democrats and civil rights groups, that’s exactly what this legislation is.
“Intentional discrimination against people of a certain race—is that racism?” Texas House Rep. Gina Hinojosa asked during Thursday debate over the bill.
“We can talk about racial impacts of this legislation without accusing members of this body of being racist,” Phelan shot back.
The Texas House passed a procedural motion late Thursday night that put the bill one step away from becoming law, with final passage expected on Friday. The bill will bar counties from conducting drive-thru and 24-hour voting, two new voting methods pioneered in minority-majority Harris County, home of Houston, last election cycle.
It also adds new voter ID requirements for mail voting, caps the amount of hours each day that voting is allowed to take place, bans counties from sending voters absentee ballot request forms, gives partisan poll watchers more power and access to polling places, requires larger counties to install cameras to observe voting, and creates new criminal penalties for people who assist voters in casting their ballots.
Texas House Democrats walked out en masse in late May to block the legislature from passing the original version of the bill. After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session to try to force the bill’s passage over the summer, House Democrats fled the state to Washington, D.C. in order to try to prevent a quorum, block them from passing the new restrictions into law, and lobby Washington Democrats with unsuccessful pleas to pass national legislation barring voting suppression.
Republicans responded by authorizing the arrest of any lawmakers who refused to come to the Capitol. That threat only extended to state lines, and couldn’t reach Democrats in D.C., who stayed for more than a month. But in recent days a handful of Democrats caved, breaking with their colleagues and returning to Austin to end the standoff.
The waves of protest generated national attention. And while Texas Democrats didn’t achieve their ultimate goal of stopping the bill from becoming law, their public shaming did force Republicans to remove some of the bill’s most obviously racist measures, including a ban on Sunday voting that was clearly aimed at undercutting Black churches’ ‘Souls to the Polls’ voter turnout efforts.
Republicans insist that the new measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud, playing off Trump’s lies about the 2020 election for political gain, but they haven’t been able to offer any proof that widespread voting fraud is an actual problem. Texas is one of many GOP-controlled states that have pushed voting restrictions in recent months, including Arizona, Georgia, and Iowa. Those changes have a twofold effect: Pleasing the GOP base and potentially making it harder for Democrats to vote and therefore easier to win elections in future years.
“There's no reason for this bill and no reason why we had to come back and no reason why you had to be here,” Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchia said during the debate. “This is all about furtherance of the big lie.”