After voting for Bill’s passage, Texas Democrats call for federal help that may never come
Friday’s vote on GOP-backed voting legislation in the Texas House of Representatives was a formality: Senate Bill 1, which would add new restrictions on voting and which opponents have criticized as an attempt to remove voters, had enough votes to move into the Republican-controlled legislature.
Democrats have twice blocked similar legislation, first with a walkout in the regular session and then traveling to Washington DC in the first special session. While there, they urged Congress to enact federal voting protections.
Ahead of the vote, Democratic State Representative Rafael Anchia of Dallas reiterated that call to action – and said the fate of Texas voters was now in the hands of federal lawmakers.
“There is an opportunity to take action on federal legislation that will protect the voting rights not only for millions of Texans but for millions of Americans,” Anchia said.
But the likelihood of that happening is slim: U.S. Senate rules currently require 60 members to pass such legislation. In a divided Senate with no Republican support for the bill, the measure is likely going nowhere, leaving Democrats in Texas with few options as SB 1 is expected to become law in the coming days.
Despite pressure to change this 60-vote rule, it is not clear whether efforts to eliminate it will actually succeed, according to Michael O. Adams, professor of political science at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at the Texas Southern University.
Two Senate Democrats – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – are against any change in the threshold for voting in the chamber. And so far, President Biden has remained silent on the matter, leaving most political experts to conclude that the Texas Democrats’ last hope is dead in the water.
“You can talk about how it’s a comeback to Jim Crow,” Adams said. “But again, you have to stand up and say, ‘Break the filibuster, come and support this bill. “And we haven’t seen the president do that.
Adams and others are quick to point out that State Democrats who broke the quorum shaped the conversation about voting rights when they fled the state for Washington, DC, in July. There, they met Vice President Kamala Harris and other federal lawmakers, although they failed to secure a meeting with the president himself.
Yet a day after their arrival, Biden addressed the nation with a speech in support of the now blocked For The People Act, a bill that would enact sweeping reforms, including an expansion of voter registration. , postal voting and early voting options. . Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a prominent For The People Act critic who blocked a vote on the bill for procedural reasons earlier this month, called it a “federal takeover of the elections”.
But any hope for the president’s move on protecting federal voters ran into a problem last week, Adams said.
It also made it less likely that Biden would go ahead with any pressure to change Senate rules, given that the controversial withdrawal spent some of his political capital, Adams said.
“Considering the plummeting numbers in the polls and what’s going on in Afghanistan, I don’t see that on the radar,” he said. “You even have a lot of Democrats starting to distance themselves from the president last week because they will be in very close election battles next year.”
Critics say SB 1, Texas’ voting bill, enacts new barriers to voter access. It prohibits 24-hour voting and voting behind the wheel, among others.
Both of these policies were passed by Harris County ahead of the 2020 election, and election officials say they are a big reason the county saw a record attendance. They were also used disproportionately by voters of color: 53% of voters behind the wheel were people of color and 56% of those who used 24-hour voting were people of color, according to Chris Hollins, the former Harris County clerk who helped put the policies in place.
With the breaking of the quorum, the movement on the bill stalled until the Democrats returned two weeks ago. On the House floor ahead of the vote, Democratic House Speaker Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, again criticized the bill as an attempt to suppress voter turnout in the state, while reiterating the calls for federal action.
“Congress and the administration are watching because they know what’s at stake,” Turner said. “They know because we have told them a lot in the last few weeks that they need to act to protect voters from the regressive policies of this bill and other bills like this that are being introduced and enacted.” Across the country. And when you have all passed this bill, in a few minutes you are about to prove us right.
The House gave its final approval to SB 1 on Friday with a vote of 80-41 across party lines.
One of the lawmakers who voted for the bill, Republican James White of Hillister, praised the bill for providing what he and other GOP members have called electoral integrity.
“This is a very important bill because it deals with the fundamental architecture of our popular government, and it is our voice, which is expressed through our vote,” White told KERA last week before his adoption.
At one point, it was inevitable that lawmakers would return home, according to Melanye Price, professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University and director of the school’s Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice.
Yet, Price added, the Democrats accomplished what they intended to do: publicly pressure Congress to intervene.
“It was almost a done deal from the start,” Price said. “The calculation made, the political will of the political actors was there. And so it was almost a done. And so what (the Democrats) were able to do was at least stop the process for a while, and also register their discontent. And I think these things are to be praised.
SB 1 is now heading to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, where he is expected to quickly sign it into law – and possibly face legal challenges, according to political experts.
But here too, the outlook is bleak for Democrats, with a conservative Texas justice and, if challenged in federal court, a conservative Fifth Circuit appeals court.
The case could also reach the United States Supreme Court, which recently ruled in favor of such laws. The landmark 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder struck down a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required certain states, including Texas, to obtain federal authorization to enact voting laws.
Since then, the court has only become more conservative, which, according to Price, makes it less likely that the bill will be rejected in court.
“I think it’s a pretty dark prospect to vote for people of color, and for people who have been marginalized, for the poor, for people with disabilities,” she said. “I think all of these people are going to have a hard time voting for a few years.”
If there is a bright side, Price said, it’s that policies that have been criticized as racist have historically often been a motivator for political engagement – if people are able to overcome them on their own. obstacles.
“One of the things we know is that it stimulates activity, but the desire to participate has to be a way to overcome obstacles,” she said. “And these obstacles are many. “
Additional reporting by Bret Jaspers of KERA in Dallas-Fort Worth.