U.S. voter advocates face tough fight despite Texas triumph

·3 min read

By Julia Harte

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on Tuesday celebrated the boycott by Texas state lawmakers that prevented sweeping new Republican-backed voting restrictions from becoming law over the weekend but acknowledged the reprieve would be short-lived.

With the Texas legislature poised to pass the measure during a special session later this year, voting rights advocates said the U.S. Congress needed to act on a Democratic-backed election reform bill to ensure lasting protections.

"The Texas Democratic Party is holding back the levy with a temporary band-aid, but they don’t have the resources to be able to hold it back permanently," said Sylvia Albert, voting and elections director for good-government watchdog Common Cause.

Democratic Texas lawmakers walked out of a legislative session on Sunday, denying Republicans the quorum needed to pass a bill that would have limited early voting hours, added new identification requirements for absentee voting and prohibited ballot drop boxes.

Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, quickly vowed to add the measure to a special legislative session expected to be held this fall.

Republican backers say the voting restrictions are needed to prevent voter fraud, which is vanishingly rare in the United States but which former President Donald Trump blamed for his decisive loss in the November election. Critics say such bills are aimed at eliminating flexible voting methods frequently used by voters of color.

Stalling the Texas measure represented a significant victory for Democrats, who have unsuccessfully fought a slew of similar laws passed since the beginning of the year in battleground states like Texas where Republicans control both the state legislature and the governor's office.

Reyna Walters-Morgan, the Democratic National Committee's director of civic engagement and voter protection, said the Texas outcome was a "great example" of Democrats protecting voting rights by any means possible.

But advocates said the next action must come from Washington, where the Democratic-led House has passed election reforms known as the For the People Act. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Friday he would bring the bill to a vote in the Senate in late June.

The federal measure would establish nationwide baselines for voter access that would prevent some of the measures in the Texas bill, such as eliminating ballot drop boxes and requiring mail-in voters to provide a reason for voting by mail.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday said Vice President Kamala Harris would lead the administration's efforts on voting rights and help push for the act's passage.

But in the Senate, which is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, the act does not have the support necessary to overcome a filibuster, under which the supermajority of 60 votes would be needed to pass the legislation, according to Democratic strategists.

"For federal election reform, the real question is, what will it take to get all Democrats on board with removing the filibuster?" said Jim Manley, once a top aide to former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Brad Brooks; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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