Texas Democrat Leaves Washington, Returns to State to Work on Voting Bill

July 22, 2021 Updated: July 22, 2021

A Texas state Democrat lawmaker who left the Lone Star State as part of an effort to prevent the passage of a Republican-backed voting measure said he’s returning to the state to engage in negotiations over the legislation.

Rep. Philip Cortez, who was one of about 60 state lawmakers who traveled to Washington from Texas this month, said he was asked by other Democrats to return to Texas to work on improving the measure. Republicans have argued the bill is necessary to safeguard future elections and restore the public’s confidence in them, while Democrats say the measure would place unfair restrictions on minority groups when they cast their ballots.

“I proudly stood with my Democratic colleagues and left Texas to ensure House Bill 3 would not be approved as introduced. A small working group of Democrats decided to begin active discussions here in Austin on improving HB 3 and asked that I return to establish open communication lines,” Cortez said in a statement on July 22. “I returned to Texas to try to engage in good-faith dialogue about the aspects of the bill that I, and others, think are harmful.”

While in Washington, the state Democrats suffered a major political blow after at least six members tested positive for COVID-19, coming after they posted a photo of themselves sitting on a private chartered plane without wearing masks; all claimed to be fully vaccinated. An aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a White House aide also tested positive after coming into contact with the lawmakers.

Another Texas Democrat, Rep. Harold Dutton, returned to Texas due to family reasons, the Dallas Morning News reported. Dutton said that he wasn’t approached by the Texas Department of Public Safety after House Speaker Dade Phelan and other Republicans voted last week to ask the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms to locate the missing Democrats.

A spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party, Abi Rahmen, told Fox News that no other members are planning to return in the near future.

Previously, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, threatened that Democrats who broke quorum to prevent the start of the special legislative session would be arrested. In late May, Democrats pulled a similar stunt and walked out to block the passage of the voting overhaul bill, prompting Abbott to call the special session to address the proposal.

Speaking to news outlets last week, Abbott also said he would continue to call special legislative sessions until the bill reaches the floor of the state House for a vote.

Election measures in the state House and Senate include outlawing unsolicited applications for absentee ballots and requiring either a driver’s license number or a voter’s last four Social Security digits on the ballot. The bills also would also increase early voting hours for local elections.