Texas Democrats Walk Out of House Chamber to Block Voting Law

Texas Democrats Walk Out of House Chamber to Block Voting Law
Voters enter and exit the Austin City Hall during the presidential primary in Austin, Texas, on March 3, 2020. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)
Janita Kan

Texas Democrats abandoned the House floor on the night of May 30 in an effort to prevent the passage of a sweeping election overhaul bill that had already passed the state Senate.

The Democrat lawmakers managed to defeat the bill temporarily by breaking the quorum needed to hold a final vote on it. According to the state House rules, at least 100 members are required to be present for the chamber to conduct business.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who supports the bill, responded to the Democrat’s move in a statement on May 30, vowing to call a special session to revisit the bill.

“I declared Election Integrity and Bail Reform to be must-pass emergency items for this legislative session. It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither will reach my desk. Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas. They will be added to the special session agenda. Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session,” Abbott wrote.

State Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, appeared to be the main impetus for the walkout. According to several media outlets, Turner had sent a text message informing other Democrats to “leave the chamber discreetly” ahead of the midnight deadline.

The Democrat lawmakers then confirmed their move following the walkout saying that they had used their “last tool” to kill the bill.

“We denied the quorum that they needed to pass this bill and we killed that bill,” Turner told reporters on May 30.

“One of the many great traditions of the African-American church in this country is ‘Souls to the Polls.’ Republicans were determined to take that away.”

The Texas House Republican Caucus responded to the move, condemning the actions of their colleagues.

“The Texas House Republican Caucus condemns the actions of their colleagues in the Texas House, who chose to vacate their constitutional responsibility and leave millions of Texans without resolution on key issues in the final hours of the legislative session,” the statement said.

“These individuals quit on their constituents and they quit on Texas. The Caucus is fully committed to taking all necessary steps to deliver on election integrity and bail reform, two issues flagged by our governor as emergency items.”

The bill was approved in the Senate largely along party lines after an overnight debate stretched into the morning of May 30, according to local media.
The measure would grant more power to poll watchers by giving them more access inside polling areas, while creating new penalties against election officials who restrict poll watchers’ movements. The proposal would also allow a judge to void the outcome of an election if the number of fraudulent votes could change the result.

Officials who send mail-in ballots to people who didn’t request them could also face criminal penalties, should the bill be enacted into law.

President Joe Biden has also weighed in on the bill, characterizing the voting integrity law as an “attack” against the right to vote.

“It’s wrong and un-American. In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote,” Biden said in a statement.

“I call again on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And I continue to call on all Americans, of every party and persuasion, to stand up for our democracy and protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections.”

Florida and Georgia have both passed bills that add measures to protect the sanctity of the ballot box and to add security to other methods of voting. The laws have faced significant pushback from Democrats who say the bills amount to voter suppression.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.