Texas Democrats plan to flee the state as part of an all-out effort to block Republicans from passing new restrictions on voting in the state.
The move, first reported by NBC News, escalates one of the most high-stakes battles over efforts to make it harder to vote in America.
It comes days into a special legislative session in Texas in which Republicans are advancing measures that would impose new identification requirements on mail-in ballots, ban 24-hour and drive-thru voting, and empower partisan poll watchers.
Texas, a state Trump handily won in 2020, is already one of the hardest places to vote in the US. It is among a handful of states that do not have online voter registration nor does it allow everyone to vote by mail, only allowing those who are 65, have a disability, or who meet other criteria to do so. Texas was among the states with the lowest turnout in 2020.
This will be the second time Texas lawmakers have walked out of the capitol to deny Republicans the required two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business.
In late May, Democrats walked out of the regular session of the legislature, thwarting an earlier version of the voting bill. Republicans have pressed on with a similar version of that bill in the special session, though they dropped two of its most egregious provisions – a measure cutting early voting hours on Saturdays and another that would have made it easier for judges to overturn elections.
The Democratic decision to flee the state offered a jolt of energy to national Democrats, who have watched Republicans across the country use their majorities in state capitols to enact several new measures to impose voting restrictions.
Meanwhile, Democrats have failed in their efforts in Washington to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation. Several of the Democrats fleeing Texas plan to travel to Washington DC to advocate for federal voting legislation, NBC News reported.
“We are now taking the fight to our nation’s capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas,” Democratic leaders in the state house of representatives said in a statement. They urged Congress to pass the For the People Act, which includes several provisions that would expand voter access, as well as an updated version of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic party, supported lawmakers as they left the state.
“We will not stand by and watch Republicans slash our right to vote, silence the voices of Texans of color, and destroy our democracy – all to preserve their own power. Our lawmakers have refused to be complicit in Republicans’ destructive attacks – and they’re doing what Texans need them to do: hold the line so that not one more anti-voter law can be passed in Texas,” he said in a statement.
With no quorum, Republicans in the state legislature will be unable to proceed with any business in the special session, which can last a maximum of 30 days. Democrats who flee the state face potential arrest, according to NBC News as state Republicans can authorize law enforcement to haul the Democratic legislators back to the state. Republicans did just that in 2003, when Democratic lawmakers fled the state in an effort to block new electoral maps that would favor Republicans.
As recently as last week, there was not widespread consensus among Democrats on whether to flee the state, the New York Times reported.
Some Democrats, realizing they could not block Republicans from passing new restrictions for ever, favored staying and fighting the legislation on procedural grounds, and proposing amendments to win key concessions, the Times said. Some worried that fleeing the state would make it look like Democrats were abandoning their legislative responsibilities. Those in favor of fleeing argued it would bring new spotlight to the fight over voting rights in Texas. Fifty-eight of the 67-member Democratic caucus are expected to flee the state, NBC reported.
Republicans began advancing the new voting bill on Saturday in a committee hearing that lasted into the early hours of the morning. Hundreds of people signed up to testify against the measure and waited hours to do so.