Texas GOP advances voting bill after Democrats’ holdout ends

Texas State Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Kerrville, center, answers questions of fellow lawmakers as they debate voting bill SB1 in the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Republicans advanced new election integrity measures last week after months of protests by Democrats, who abandoned the state for 38 days before returning.

The nearly 50-page bill passed the Texas House on a 79-37 mostly party-line vote. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott says he will sign the measure that is on track to reach his desk by early September, if not sooner.

In what is now the GOP’s third try at passing the bill since May, the atmosphere was charged. For more than 12 hours Republicans defended the changes as safeguards while Democrats, who offered a raft of rejected attempts to soften the bill, continued to claim it would disproportionately impact people of color. At one heated point Republican Dade Phelan, the House speaker, interrupted lawmakers to tell them not to accuse each other of racism — or even say the word.

But in the end, the bill easily passed, just as Democrats knew it would once they returned.

In seeking to stop the bill, more than 50 Democrats had gone to Washington D.C.

“As much as you might decry our need to go to Washington, I really beg for federal protection,” Democratic state Rep. Rafael Anchia said.

Some Republicans did not hide their frustration with Democrats’ refusal to return until now.

“I think you could care a little more, and should have been here,” Republican J.M. Lozano said during one exchange with Anchia.

The bill now goes back to the state Senate, which already signed off on a similar version this month following a 15-hour filibuster.

That was another last-ditch gambit by Texas Democrats who have virtually no legislative means left to stop new voting measures in the state — which already has some of the nation’s toughest election laws. Abbott, who is up for reelection in 2022, has demanded the bill and swiftly vetoed paychecks for 2,100 legislative staffers after Democrats first blocked the legislation by walking out of the state Capitol in May.

Abbott then had to call a special session to take up voting restrictions. Democrats again walked out in July, with dozens boarding private jets to the nation’s capital.

For months, Texas Republicans accuse Democrats of exaggerating the bill’s impact and pointed out that the latest version would require another extra hour daily of early voting, and result in more counties offering at least 12 hours of early voting on weekdays.

“Texas affords an immense amount of opportunity to vote,” said Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, who is carrying the bill in the House.

The bill must reach Abbott’s desk by Labor Day weekend. Otherwise, Republicans will have to start over for a fourth time.