Texas Democrats managed to prevent Republicans from passing a racist voter suppression law over the weekend—but the fight is far from over and, they made clear, Congress must act. State House Democrats walked out on Sunday, denying Republicans the quorum they needed to pass a bill that President Joe Biden had on Saturday called “an assault on democracy.” But while the current legislative session expired on May 30, Gov. Greg Abbott says he will call a special session later in the summer to finish the job, and one of the bill’s Republican sponsors is essentially threatening to use the time to make it even worse.
The Texas bill, which passed the state Senate before dying at least a temporary death in the House, targets voting by Black and Latino people, including in provisions outlawing drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, both used in Harris County in 2020 to help ease crowding during the pandemic. More than half of the 130,000 people who used drive-through voting and 10,000 people who used 24-hour voting were people of color, according to a former county election official, while 38% of people who voted early overall were people of color.
The bill would also have followed through on Georgia Republicans’ earlier threat to make “souls to the polls” voting programs run by Black churches impossible, in the Texas case by banning early voting on Sunday mornings specifically. And it would force anyone who drives more than two non-relatives to the polls to submit paperwork explaining why they did so, again targeting people who drive vanloads of fellow parishioners after church. Republicans say this provision applies to everyone equally—but of course, it really hits people who do not own their own individual cars.
“You really have no idea and no realistic vision about how things work in my neighborhood and neighborhoods like mine,” Democratic state Sen. Borris Miles of Houston told Republicans during debate. Except maybe they do, and they’re tailoring restrictions to hit those neighborhoods specifically.
Democratic elections lawyer Marc Elias has pledged legal action if and when the Texas bill eventually passes, but Democratic legislators in the state made clear what they think needs to happen to prevent it and other such bills from doing major damage to the right to vote: Congress must act.
“We did our part to stop SB 7,” tweeted state Rep. Erin Zwiener. “Now we need Congress to do their part by passing HR 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”
“State lawmakers are holding the line,” tweeted state Rep. James Talarico. “Federal lawmakers need to get their shit together and pass the For The People Act.”
”Breaking quorum is about the equivalent of crawling on our knees begging the president and the United States Congress to give us the For the People Act and give us the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer told The Washington Post.
But Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema refuse to touch the filibuster, which Republicans are using to block those and other vitally important bills. Manchin, in fact, is critical of the voting rights legislation itself. Without these bills, Republicans at the state level will continue passing racist voter suppression laws to rig elections in their own favor, gaining power not by winning support but by making it impossible for many people to vote. And at least one key Democrat just doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.