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Texas Republicans advance voting overhaul

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Republicans advanced bills Sunday that would make voting less appealing to fraud in a state that already has some of the nation’s toughest restrictions after dozens spoke against the proposals — with some waiting to speak for almost 24 hours.

Republicans made clear they intended to advance a new election bill — which would prohibit 24-hour polling places, ban drop boxes and stop drive-thru voting — this weekend, with a first major vote on the proposals expected this week. That timeline is pushing some Democratic lawmakers toward calling for a second abandonment of their elected positions and walkout to stop the legislation from moving forward — like they did in May when they broke quorum. The move is illegal under Texas law, and legislators must not only flee the state, but risk arrest upon returning.

Texas is among several states with GOP-controlled statehouses where Republicans have moved to enact more transparent voting laws in response to former President Donald Trump’s claims the 2020 election was stolen from him by way of voter fraud.

A second walkout by Texas Democrats would mark a high-stakes escalation of their efforts to deny Republicans a major priority, and in turn, put more pressure on President Joe Biden to act on voting at the federal level.

“Texas Democrats’ decision to break quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said after the first time Democratic lawmakers walked out on the state. “As they fly across the country on cushy private planes, they leave undone issues that can help their districts and our state.”

“Should we stick around? Hell no. For what?” Democratic state Rep. Jarvis Johnson said. “There’s nothing being done in earnest. There’s nothing be done with the utmost respect for one another.”

For weeks, Democratic leaders in the Texas House have said they are not ruling out another revolt, but have also expressed hope of weakening the bill during the 30-day special session. Johnson, however, believes a large number of his colleagues are ready to deny Republicans a quorum for a second time, though most continue speaking cautiously.

“You may know my next move, but you can’t stop it,” he challenged.

Another walkout may merely buy more time: Abbott could keep calling 30-day special sessions until voting measures are passed. Paychecks for nearly 2,000 Capitol staffers could also be on the line, because Abbott vetoed funding for the legislative branch following Democrats’ last late-night walkout. He has signaled he will restore that funding this summer — if lawmakers are around to put a bill on his desk.

“These Special Session priority items put the people of Texas first and will keep the Lone Star State on a path to prosperity,” Abbott said.

Nacal Tate, who volunteers with the NAACP chapter in Collin County in the Dallas area, said she woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday to drive several hours to Austin to testify against the proposed voting overhaul. Tate said that meant missing her grand niece’s birthday party, but that it was worth the sacrifice. Some of the provisions, if they become law, would affect senior citizens, like herself, and others who receive help at the polls due to proposed penalties for voting volunteers who make a mistake.

“It is a suppression of our constitutional rights,” Tate said.

The last time Texas Democrats left the state to deny a quorum was 2003, when they decamped to Oklahoma and New Mexico to try to block new GOP-drawn voting maps. They were gone more a month, but ultimately, Republicans passed a new redistricting plan.

The versions of the revived voting changes passed Sunday by a House panel — at 7:30 a.m., almost 24 hours after debate began — and by a Senate committee later that afternoon no longer include two of the most contentious provisions: prohibiting Sunday morning voting, when many Black churchgoers go to the polls, and language that would have made it easier for a judge to overturn elections.

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