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Texas Democrats Fought GOP Voter Suppression Bill Through the Night

Democrats were able to remove language from the bill that was plucked straight from Jim Crow, but the fight isn’t over.

Voters approach the door at a polling location on October 13, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

Texas House Republicans passed a voter suppression bill early Friday morning despite a tough fight put up by Democrats, who offered over 130 amendments from late Thursday into the night.

Democrats were able to water down the bill, SB 7, and cut into some of the most punitive proposals, but the final vision retained restrictive proposals like limiting ballot drop boxes and prohibiting counties from sending unsolicited absentee ballots.

The House voted at 3 am to advance the bill, which contained 20 of the provisions proposed by Democrats, who had slim chances of outright stopping the bill. Texas’ House is controlled by Republicans by a wide margin; the bill passed 81-64.

The bill will head to committee to reconcile the differences with the version passed by the Texas Senate and clear another vote in both chambers before it goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. Abbott, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill.

Previous versions of SB 7 had many restrictions that raised alarms for racial justice and disability advocates, including a ban on drive-through voting, restrictions on early voting hours, and limits on polling places in areas with larger populations of Black and Latinx residents.

It also contained language plucked straight out of Jim Crow which was eventually removed from the bill. The original text written by Republicans stated that the bill’s purpose was to “preserve the purity of the ballot box,” which Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchía pointed out was explicitly racist.

“You may have missed it then — and this would’ve been very obvious I think to anyone who looked at that language — that provision was drafted specifically to disenfranchise Black people, Black voters in fact, following the Civil War,” Anchia said, per the Texas Tribune. “Did you know that this purity of the ballot box justification was used during the Jim Crow era to prevent Black people from voting?”

Unfortunately, reconciliation in committee could end up removing the Democrats’ amendments, and much of the restrictions could be put back in place in the final bill. Former federal Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), through Twitter, encouraged Texans to call their representatives and urge them to vote down the ultimate version of the bill.

He also encouraged residents to call their federal senator and voice their support for Democrats’ For the People Act, which could help undo some of the harmful voter suppression legislation that Republicans have been putting forth in states across the country.

“This bill would not only stop voter suppression efforts in Texas, but would do so in Georgia, Arizona, Kansas, etc,” tweeted O’Rourke. “This is the most important thing we can do for voting rights in America.”

Florida was the latest state to pass Republican-led restrictions on elections, joining Georgia in imposing racist voter suppression laws. On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) signed a bill acutely limiting ballot drop boxes, banning handing out food and water in voting lines, and empowering partisan poll watchers to challenge ballots.

DeSantis locked out all media except for Fox News when he signed the bill that would affect the millions of voters in his state. Democrats balked at the decision.

“The bill signing of a voter suppression bill by our Governor is a ‘Fox Exclusive’ — when did public policy become an exclusive to any media company, let alone a hyper conservative one?!” wrote Florida Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani on Twitter. “This is how fascism works y’all — and if you’re proud about the bill let people see you sign it!”

Several groups have filed lawsuits over the Florida bill. The League of Women Voters of Florida and Black Voters Matters Fund have alleged that the bill is unconstitutional. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Common Cause soon followed with a lawsuit against the Florida secretary of state, saying that the bill causes undue restrictions on voting. And the League of United Latin American Citizens is suing the state and asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the Republicans who sponsored the bill.

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