Texas GOP advances voting bill after Democrats’ holdout ends

Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado
Associated Press

Austin, Texas — Texas Republicans late Thursday advanced new voting restrictions after months of protests by Democrats, who are all but out of ways to stop sweeping changes that include banning 24-hour voting and giving partisan poll watchers more protections.

The nearly 50-page bill passed the Texas House on a 79-37 mostly party-line vote, a week after Democrats ended a 38-day walkout that had prevented Republicans from moving forward.

In what is now the GOP’s third attempt since May to get the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the atmosphere was charged. The GOP said the bill will ensure election integrity, but Democrats said it amounts to voter suppression for disabled people and minorities. During debate Thursday, Republican Dade Phelan, the House speaker, interrupted lawmakers to tell them not to accuse each other of racism, or even say the word.

Texas state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Kerrville, center, answers questions as lawmakers debate voting bill SB1 in the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol on Thursday in Austin, Texas.

But in the end, the bill passed, just as Democrats knew it would once their holdout ended and they returned.

Texas is now set to become the latest big GOP state to pass tighter voting laws in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

“As much as you might decry our need to go to Washington, I really beg for federal protection,” Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia said.

Some Republicans did not hide their frustration with Democrats’ refusal to return until now.

“I think you could care a little more, and should have been here,” Republican J.M. Lozano said during one exchange with Anchia.

The bill closely resembled the same one Democrats walked out on more than a month ago. It includes a raft of tweaks and changes to the state’s election code, which when taken as a whole would make it harder to cast a ballot in Texas.

Among other things, it prohibits drive-thru voting and threatens local elections officials with felony charges if they send mail-in voting applications to voters who don’t request one. Many of the provisions take aim at Harris County, which includes Houston and is a major Democratic stronghold, after leaders there expanded ways to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Texas Republicans accuse Democrats of exaggerating the bill’s impact and maintain it’s not driven by Trump’s loss, even as some have dodged questions about whether they believe the election was stolen. Republicans point out that the latest version would require another extra hour daily of early voting, and result in more counties offering at least 12 hours of early voting on weekdays.