Republicans in Texas are already plotting to resurrect their fight for sweeping voting restrictions after Democratic lawmakers walked out of the state capitol and blocked an 11th-hour attempt to ram through legislation that would have made it harder to cast a ballot.
Texas governor Greg Abbott – who leads the state’s domineering Republican majority – has announced he will include the high-stakes issue on his agenda when he reconvenes the legislature for a rapid-fire special session. He called the failure of the bill “deeply disappointing”.
Abbott, who says “election integrity” remains an emergency in Texas, wields control over what is essentially legislative overtime, where lawmakers consider issues on a sped-up timeline. When the session will begin remains unclear.
But advocates are still painting last night’s historic show of force as an inflection point for the Texas legislature and America, when Democrats shirked business as usual for aggressive tactics that matched the urgency of a teetering democracy.
“The fight you saw last night is the fight that will remain and continue,” state representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat representing San Antonio, told the Guardian. “That’s our commitment.”
Senate Bill 7, an omnibus bill that restricts voter access, seemed almost destined to become law at the start of Texas’s legislative session, as powerful Republican leaders invoked baseless claims of “election integrity” to push for a virtual overhaul of the state’s already notoriously byzantine voting system.
SB7 was one proposal among a larger blitz of at least 389 restrictive voting bills introduced across the country this legislative cycle, bolstered by Republicans’ unsubstantiated assertions of widespread voter fraud during last year’s election.
The Texas bill drew ire from business leaders, voting rights advocates and left-leaning politicians, some of whom dubbed it “Jim Crow 2.0” and noted the disproportionate impact it would likely have on voters of color. But Republican lawmakers still strong-armed their way through procedural maneuvers and overnight votes, relying on backroom dealings and avoiding public scrutiny while advancing the legislation.
“People want a fair system. And they saw what happened, and they know that this is a cynical attempt at holding onto power,” said Charlie Bonner, communications director at the civic engagement non-profit Move Texas.
“These are people who are trying to stack the deck, and they’re doing it in the middle of the night.”
SB7 has gone through a series of dizzying changes since it first passed the state senate in early April, culminating in a Frankenstein bill that attempted to reconcile both chambers’ priorities, plus add new provisions in the final stretch.
The bill would have made it a state jail felony for a public official to proactively solicit or send vote by mail applications, restricted the use of drop boxes, banned 24-hour and drive-thru voting and lowered the bar for overturning an election, among other measures.
After months of controversy, it was still teed up to meet a midnight deadline Sunday night, when it needed to clear the House to land on Abbott’s desk. But, after being silenced and boxed out of deliberations, Democrats decided to go nuclear, preventing the necessary quorum for a vote.
“The eyes of the nation were watching Texas, and we wanted to make very clear that Texas Democrats would fight tooth and nail to defend voting rights,” Martinez Fischer said.
Now, even as the regular legislative session concludes, the fight is far from over as Abbott plans his special session. Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick has already endorsed Abbott’s plan, and state representative Briscoe Cain, who spearheaded the push for voter restrictions in the House, has tweeted that he was “ready to get back to work”.
“They’re gonna want this really, really bad. They’re gonna want this probably even more now,” said Carisa Lopez, political director of the nonprofit watchdog Texas Freedom Network.
But the special session also provides an opportunity for more scrutiny, especially after Republicans routinely relied on behind closed doors negotiations during the regular session, evading public testimony and accountability.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Bonner said. “And so what we can do in this legislative process is shine a light on these bad actors and voter suppressors, and make them feel the pressure of the entire world watching what’s happening in Texas right now.”