Texas Democrats exit House floor, blocking passage of voting bill before deadline

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As the clock neared 11 p.m. Sunday, most House Democrats exited the House floor to prevent a vote on a controversial voting bill before a midnight deadline.

At 10:51 p.m., a quorum of Democrats were no longer on the House floor, prompting the House to adjourn until 10 a.m. Monday. The chamber had earlier been debating Senate Bill 7. A compromise version of the bill was passed early Sunday morning and passage in the House is the bill’s final step before heading to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Before the bill in its entirety was debated, Texas representatives, like their counterparts in the Senate, discussed a resolution dealing with elements of the new bill that weren’t in versions passed out of the House and Senate.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, took issue with a part of the bill that would limit poll operation hours on the last Sunday of early voting from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the effect it could have on “Souls to the Polls” events held by Black congregations.

He also criticized a new provision of the bill that the ACLU of Texas says would make it easier to overturn an election. The bill states that, “If the number of votes illegally cast in the election is equal to or greater than the number of votes necessary to change the outcome of an election, the court may declare the election void without attempting to determine how individual voters voted.”

“The bill is bad and egregious enough as is, we don’t need to make it more egregious by going outside the bounds here at literally almost the 11th hour,” Turner said.

The bill would ban drive-thru voting and set polling place operation hours, effectively prohibiting 24-hour voting. Both options were offered in Harris County amid COVID-19.

It also offers protections for poll workers, making it a Class B misdemeanor for an election officer to “knowingly refuse to accept a (poll) watcher for service.” Poll watchers would have to sign an oath attesting they won’t disrupt the voting process or harass voters.

Other elements of the bill include penalties for public officials who solicit an application to vote by mail to people who don’t request one, and a requirement that those seeking an application to vote by mail because of a disability provide the “specific grounds” on which they’re eligible.

The House action followed an overnight debate in the Senate. The body ultimately approved the compromise version of the bill early Sunday. Democrats in the chamber expressed concern that they didn’t having enough time to vet the latest version of the bill before it was considered.

“I think everybody in this room can agree that Texas has a pretty tragic past of suppressing voters,” Powell said, noting that the state has ended up in court in the past. “I have grave concerns about any bill that was crafted in the shadows or passed late at night.”

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