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Republicans in the U.S. Senate, including Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, blocked an election reform bill that Texas Democrats have increasingly called for following the Texas Legislative Session.
U.S. senators voted Tuesday on whether to debate the For The People Act, an election reform bill that Texas Democrats have called for at amplified volume since the end of the state legislative session when they killed a state bill that many feared would restrict access to the polls if enacted. The federal bill needed 60 votes in the 50-50 divided chamber to bypass a filibuster.
As she exited the House floor, Vice President Kamala Harris said, “The fight is not over,” but the next steps for state legislators who say they need federal help to prevent laws that make it harder to vote are unclear.
“Without some support from the federal government, the likelihood of Texas Democrats being able to ... stop Republicans in Texas from changing the voting process is pretty small,” said University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus.
Rottinghaus said Texas Democrats had hoped to receive air cover from national Democrats.
“But their difficulty of getting this bill through the Senate underscores how hard Republicans are going to fight against expanding voting rights,” he said. “That’s where the Texas Democrats are kind of stuck, and I think a lot of other Democratic parties across the country are in a similar position.”
Still, Texas Democrats are joining Harris in her call.
“While Senate Republicans blocked the passage of the For the People Act today, the fight is not over,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Republicans keep giving us a reason to pass sweeping federal protections and to finally modernize the democratic institution of voting in free and fair elections in every town, city, and state in the country.”
Fort Worth U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, in a video shared on Twitter, appeared to be looking ahead to another bill — The John Lewis Voting Rights Act — as he continued to call for the For The People Act to pass. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, filed as H.R. 4 in the previous Congress, hasn’t yet been filed. The proposal sets criteria for which states need preclearance before changing voting practices.
“Eight years ago this week, the Supreme Court gutted the historic Voting Rights Act law and ever since then Republicans have been on a tear to make it harder for our Black and brown communities in the United States of America to exercise their right to vote,” he said. “Even today, they refused to even debate the For the People Act ... We have to have change. Things have to be different in this country.”
State Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat, continued to request help from Congress after the vote.
“Texas Republicans are determined to continue in their efforts to pass anti-voter legislation, and we need Congress’ help now,” he said on Twitter. “If U.S. Senate Republicans will not get out of the way, I hope the Democratic majority will find a way to overcome their obstruction.”
‘We are out of options’
Texas Democrats in the House and Senate have pressed Congress to pass the For the People Act as Gov. Greg Abbott promises to bring lawmakers back to Austin to pass “election integrity” legislation, one of his priority items. Senate Bill 7 was blocked by House Democrats after they broke quorum, killing the bill that would have prohibited 24-hour and drive-thru voting, offered protections for partisan poll watchers and created election-related criminal offenses.
Several lawmakers, including three from Tarrant County, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., where they met with Vice President Harris and other elected officials to push for the federal legislation. In a news conference with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, State Rep. Nicole Collier, who chairs the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said a “federal intervention” is needed.
She was among Texas lawmakers to speak at a voting rights rally outside the Texas Capitol over the weekend. As Collier spoke, attendees behind her held signs reading, “protect voting rights” and “voting rights are human rights.”
“Today, we affirm that we will continue to work to preserve our precious right to vote and dare those who are hell bent on taking away from us, to come and take it,” Collier said. “Because we won’t back down. We won’t back off, and we won’t back out.”
The federal legislation as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would alter a number of procedures related to voting and elections in Texas. It would implement same day voter registration and online voter registration, according to a summary from the House’s Democracy Reform Task Force.
The bill also bars states from limiting a person’s ability to vote by mail. It would require states to form an independent redistricting commissions to for congressional redistricting, a task that’s currently left up to the Texas Legislature, and aims to create campaign finance reforms.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, hundreds of state legislators from across the country wrote to Congressional leaders asking them to pass the For The People Act, as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which hasn’t been filed in the current Congress. The letter points out that nearly 400 bills restricting voting have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, citing the the Brennan Center for Justice. Among those to sign the letter are Collier and Turner, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus.
“We are out of options,” the letter reads. “We need your help.”
Texas Democrats urge Joe Manchin to support measure
Closely watched was how U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, would vote. Manchin has been a vocal opponent of altering the Senate’s filibuster rule and previously said he opposed the legislation. However, he has since offered changes to the bill, such as provisions for a national voter ID requirement, according to the Associated Press.
Ahead of the vote on whether to advance the bill, Manchin said he’d support bringing the bill up for debate, the AP reported.
“These reasonable changes have moved the bill forward and to a place worthy of debate on the Senate floor,” Manchin said in a statement leading up to the vote. “Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues refused to allow debate of this legislation despite the reasonable changes made to focus the bill on the core issues facing our democracy.”
The news was met with praise from Turner on Twitter.
“Thank you, (Sen. Manchin) for voting to advance voting rights legislation and thanks to all Senate Democrats for your leadership in getting to this point,” Turner said. “Now, Senate Republicans need to allow debate on this important measure. We need federal action immediately.”
During the Sunday rally, Collier said she was part of a group of state lawmakers that met with the West Virginia senator.
“I and four of my legislative colleagues, we sat down with Senator Manchin, and we looked him in his eyes, and we told him, if you don’t act, if Congress does not act, millions of Texans will be left vulnerable and subject to the continued assault on our right to vote,” Collier said.