Texas GOP advances voting bill after Democrats end weeks-long walkout

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Texas Republicans this week advanced a controversial voting bill, dwindling Democrats’ chances of sinking it following a staged weeks-long walkout from the Legislature. 

The bill passed the Texas House on a 79-37 mostly party-line vote, after the Democrats returned to the chamber last week, giving Republicans the quorum necessary to vote. 

The House has held two special sessions since the regular session in May ended with some Democrats walking out to deny their colleagues a quorum so the bill couldn’t advance. 

More than 50 Texas Democrats left the state and flew to Washington, D.C., in July to press Congress for voting rights legislation. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. House passed federal voting rights legislation that congressional Democrats say is progress in their quest to fight back against voting restrictions advanced in states such as Texas. But Democrats do not have the votes to overcome opposition from Senate Republicans.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Orange, presides as the House prepares to debate voting bill SB1, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (Associated Press)

While Republicans say the bill, which among other things would ban drive-through voting and put more restrictions on mail-in voting, is to make elections safer, Democrats claim it is voter suppression especially aimed at voters of color. 

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has made the bill a top priority and says he will sign it as soon as it is on his desk. 

A protest by a group of Texas Democrats appears to have failed to produce the intended result. (Julie Johnson TX)

The bill will now return to the state Senate, which already passed a similar one, leaving Democrats little power to stop it. 

For more than 12 hours House Republicans defended the changes as safeguards while Democrats, who offered a raft of rejected attempts to soften the bill, continued to say 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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