Democratic members of the Texas Legislature walk out of House Chamber, unravel bill vote

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Texas Democrats’ last stand against a bill that would tighten voting restrictions ended in a walkout late Sunday night at the state Capitol.

Democratic representatives broke quorum ahead of the midnight deadline to vote for Senate Bill 7 (SB 7), one of the strictest voting bills in the nation. 

If passed, S.B. 7 would:

  • Eliminate drive-thru voting
  • Bolster partisan poll watching 
  • Implement new requirements for mail-in ballots

SB 7 was set to be voted on and on its way to the governor’s desk before the mass exodus by House Democrats. All members of the El Paso delegation walked out.

“There are tools in our toolbox that the minority party can use,” State Rep. Joe Moody told KTSM 9 News. “One of those tools is to just not be present.”

The actions of the House require that all members be present, meaning that the 67 Democrats in the House can (and did) unravel the vote that requires all 150 members be in attendance.

“It’s an extreme tool — admittedly,” said Moody. “But when we’re faced with a voter suppression bill as Draconian as the one we had, sometimes you have to take extreme measures.”

Sunday’s late night egress was the fourth time in Texas history that House Representatives broke quorum to curtail passage of a bill. 

The walkout is a drastic measure employed when legislators feel they have no other options for negotiation. House Democrats were faced with strategically planning their exit ahead of the S.B. 7 vote. 

“We engineered that,” said Moody.

A Democratic member asked to excuse Moody, knowing that proponents of S.B. 7 would object.

“When you object to it, then it puts it to the vote of the body. When there’s not enough members there, then the day is over,” added Moody. 

May 31 is the last day of the session, meaning S.B. 7 is now dead unless the Governor calls a special session for revival, which seems inevitable.

Late Sunday night, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “Election Integrity & Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session. They STILL must pass. They will be added to the special session agenda. Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session.”

Part of the problem, however, is that members of the House say they already had worked out the details.

“We negotiated that bill in good faith for months,” said Moody.“There were people who negotiated on both sides of the aisle for a very long time.”

The bill would do away with after-hours voting, which metropolitan areas such as Harris County adopted to expand voting access for shift workers and to alleviate long wait lines. 

“This is a bill I’ve always described as ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ and when you take them all cumulatively, they’re going to create an environment where we’re going to disenfranchise voters,” said Moody.

The bill would mandate that weekday early voting must occur between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., while also limiting Sunday voting to occur between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. 

Moreover, S.B. 7 criminalizes distributing applications to vote to people who have not requested them and bans counties from facilitating get-out-the-vote measures.

Gov. Abbott sent a statement on Monday afternoon reading in part: “At the beginning of the legislative session, I declared Election Integrity and Bail Reform to be must-pass emergency items. It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither reached my desk. Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas, which is why these items, along with other priority items, will be added to the special session agenda.”

Democrats argue these measures disenfranchise communities of color, such as El Paso, and urge community members to assert their power.

In 2020, there were 32 million Latinos eligible to vote; in Texas alone, there were 5.6 million Latinos eligible to vote.

Latinos make up 30 percent of eligible voters in Texas, with 320,000 eligible Latino voters living in Texas’s 20th Congressional District, the highest volume of any congressional district in the nation. 

Millions of voters in Texas, said Moody, have the opportunity to advocate for themselves and their voting rights.

“It’s one thing to have a seat at the table,” he said, “and another to have a seat at the table after dinner has been eaten.”

For local and breaking news, sports, weather alerts, video and more, download the FREE KTSM 9 News App from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.