Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives took the drastic action to again deny the GOP the quorum they need to pass the bills aimed at restricting mail-in ballots and some early voting procedures.
The state’s House in Austin is set to reconvene on Tuesday morning, but the missing Democrats mean that under its rules there will not be enough members present to conduct business
The chartered planes carrying at least 51 of the state’s 67 Democrats in the Texas House left Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Monday afternoon.
“Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote,” Democratic leaders said in a joint statement.
The latest action comes after Democrats walked out in May, preventing Republicans from passing the voting bill at the end of the regular legislative session. Republicans then called a special session, which still has 26 days left, to have a second attempt at passing the bill and ultimately Democrats at this stage do not have the votes needed to block it eventually passing.
The state’s Republican governor Greg Abbott hit out at the Democrats for blocking the legislation, saying it “inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve”.
“As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state,” said Mr Abbott.
“The Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do.”
The move comes amid a wave of GOP-led efforts around the country to restrict voting in various ways, as well as the campaign from progressive Democrats to reform the US voting system at the federal level, which has stalled amid a refusal from centrist Democrats in the Senate to change or abandon the filibuster.
If passed, the bills would add new restrictions for those who assist others in casting ballots, a provision criticized by disability advocates. It would also ban “drive-thru” voting pioneered by Harris County in the November elections and 2020 primaries, as well as a 24-hour early voting period the county allowed at some precincts last year.
Other provisions in the bills would institute new identification requirements for mail-in voting and ban the distribution of mail-in ballot applications. Some of the more hardline aspects of the legislation were reportedly removed in recent weeks, such as restrictions for Sunday voting hours which activists decried as a direct response to efforts by Black churches to transport voters to the polls on Sundays.
President Joe Biden is due to address the nation about voting rights on Tuesday, amid calls from progressives for the White House to take a more active role in pursuing passage of legislation protecting voting rights at the federal level.