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Texas Dems block GOP's sweeping election overhaul bill with walkout

Balloons and signs fill the fence between Black Lives Matter Plaza and Lafayette Park near the White House on Monday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

May 31 (UPI) -- Texas Democrats late Sunday staged a walk out to prevent the state's Republicans from giving final approval to a sweeping elections reform bill they see as voter suppression.

The Democrats walked out of the House chambers with an hour before the midnight deadline, denying their colleagues across the aisle the quorum they needed to send the Republican priority bill that would enforce a wide-range of restrictions on voting in the state to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott.

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The state's Republican governor issued a statement afterward, saying it was "deeply disappointing" that the bill will not reach his desk and he will add it to a forth coming special session agenda.

"Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session," he said, adding that the bill "still must pass."

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also voiced his support of a special session for S.B. 7.

"The [Texas House] failed the people of Texas tonight," he said. "No excuse."

Republican Rep. Tony Tinderholt near the end of the session accused the Democrats from the House floor of neglecting to do their jobs.

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"We take an oath at the beginning of session and we collect per diem per day to be here on the House floor to do our job on behalf of almost 30 million Texans and I'm seeing that we don't have a quorum and essentially it looks to me that Democrats left the House floor and they are neglecting duty they swore an oath to do," he said.

The walkout followed Rep. Chris Turner, the party's chairman, issuing instructions to his fellow Democrats to "take your key and leave the chamber discreetly," via a 10:35 p.m. text message shared with The Washington Post and The Texas Tribune.

The Democratic Party defended their walkout, saying they used Texas House rules to stop the passing of the Republican's "restrictive, anti-voter legislation, that makes it harder for seniors, people who are disabled and people of color to vote."

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Turner said his party members were prepared to give speeches against S.B.7 to run out the session time until it became apparent to them the Republicans were going to try and cut debate short to "ram through their vote suppression legislation."

"At that point, we had no choice but to take extraordinary measures to protect our constituents and their right to vote," he said in a statement. "Republicans have only themselves to blame for the way this session is ending."

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From Mt. Zion Church in East Austin, the Democrats congregated for a press conference where Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, who is also vice chair of the elections committee, expressed her pride in the actions of her party members and frustration with those of her Republican colleagues.

"Enough is enough," she said.

She explained the sweeping bill was fashioned behind closed doors and those on the elections committee, especially Democratic women, were silenced during negotiations.

"There have been dishonest brokers in the entire process. As many of you have seen, when this bill came to the floor we thought we'd be able to have a serious conversation, a real conversation, because this bill affects every single person in the state of Texas, including Republicans," she said. "And we were told time and time again of the secretary of state that our elections were safe and secure."

"So, really, this is just a witch hunt, a witch hunt that is aimed at people of color," she said.

The legislation made it to the House floor after it passed the Senate earlier Sunday along party lines 18-13.

Among restrictions in the bill are bans on drive-through and 24-hour voting, restrictions on early and curbside voting and increases in felony penalties on election officials as well as voters and people offering voting assistance, including those who mail ballot applications to residents who had not requested one.

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President Joe Biden on Saturday called the legislation "un-American" and "part of an assault on democracy that we've seen far too often this year -- and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans."

"In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote," he said in a statement.

The bill is the latest Republican effort following those in Florida and Georgia to put restrictions on state's voting laws following November's election that saw Biden win the presidency from former President Donald Trump.

Despite officials stating the 2020 election was safe and secure, Republicans have been defending the bills as moves to prevent voter fraud and to maintain election integrity.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas called the Republican defeat a "victory for democracy and those who defend civil liberties."

"One of the ugliest anti-voter bills in the country died today in the 2021 Texas Legislature," Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. "Democratic lawmakers broke quorum in a courageous move that shows just how hard Texans will fight to protect their constitutional right to vote."

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