Democrats Are Fleeing Texas to Block GOP Voter Suppression Bill

A Texas Democratic legislative source told VICE News that lawmakers are at the Austin airport and plan to fly to Washington to block the bill.
July 12, 2021, 5:12pm
Attendees hold up signs at a rally at the state Capitol on June 20, 2021 in Austin, Texas.
Attendees hold up signs at a rally at the state Capitol on June 20, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

Texas Democratic legislators are fleeing the state in a last-ditch effort to try to block Republicans from passing a restrictive voting measure.

A Texas Democratic legislative source told VICE News that lawmakers plan to fly to Washington in order to prevent the state legislature from having enough lawmakers present to call a vote on the controversial bill.

Advertisement

“They’re going back to D.C.,” the source told VICE News.

This is the second time that Democratic lawmakers have walked out in protest of the bill. The first time they did so, it forced Texas Republicans to shelve their plan to pass new voting restrictions in the state, which already has some of the most onerous voting restrictions in the country.

That led Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session, which is currently taking place. Republicans have rushed through an updated version of their bills. The Texas bill is part of a wide-ranging state-by-state effort by Republican lawmakers to pass new voting restrictions in response to lies by former President Trump that the 2020 election was marred by widespread voting fraud.

But in Texas, Democrats are doing everything they can to stop this effort.

“The House is supposed to reconvene tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., the calendars committee will meet and set the voter suppression bill on the floor this week, the Senate will pass after, and the governor wants to sign it by the weekend,” the source told VICE News. “We don’t anticipate this happening.”

Texas House Democrats had chartered a plane to fly to D.C., scheduled to arrive by early evening, while some other lawmakers were grabbing commercial flights. The last-minute scramble aims to call national attention to the GOP’s bill, both pressuring Republicans to make further changes to their legislation and putting pressure on Senate Democrats to move federal voting rights legislation that’s been stalled because some Senate Democrats don’t support eliminating the 60-vote filibuster to pass it and aren’t comfortable with all provisions of their legislation.

Advertisement

Texas Democrats headed to D.C. the first time they managed to delay this bill’s passage as well. 

President Biden has a major speech on voting rights scheduled for Tuesday in Philadelphia, but some civil rights activists have been frustrated that he hasn’t done more to pressure Congress to act on the issue.

It’s unclear how long Democrats can block the legislation. Texas law allows the legislature to compel lawmakers to attend session, the reason why Texas Democrats are fleeing the state—to avoid possibly being frog-marched back into the state Capitol by police. 

This isn’t the first time Democrats have used this strategy. In 2003, Texas Democrats fled the state to try to keep Republicans from passing gerrymandered maps that locked in their control of Texas’ legislature for a generation and cost Democrats six congressional seats. That move delayed the passage of the maps, but it didn’t prevent them from eventually becoming law.

But Texas Democrats’ tactics have already had a major impact. The current GOP bill would make it harder to vote by eliminating some innovative efforts by Democratic-leaning counties to expand access, like 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting. But they already dropped the most damaging aspects of their original bill in the face of pressure and public outcry, including plans to curtail Sunday voting, a move aimed at undermining Black voting turnout, as well as a plan to allow for election results to be tossed out in cases of fraud allegations.