Texas Democrats Walk Off House Floor to Block Voter Suppression Bill

Texas Democrats blocked final passage of a Republican-authored voter suppression bill late Sunday by abruptly walking off the state House floor, denying the chamber’s GOP majority the quorum necessary to proceed to a vote.

The last-ditch move by Democratic lawmakers came hours after Texas Republicans rammed the bill through the state Senate in the dead of night following a marathon session on Saturday, maneuvering around rules that typically bar lawmakers from voting on legislation that has not been public for at least 24 hours.

S.B. 7 (pdf), which Republican lawmakers crafted and expanded in secret, would impose new voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots, make it easier for judges to overturn election results, limit the use of ballot drop boxes, and restrict early voting hours on Sundays — a provision that civil rights groups said would disproportionately impact Black voters.

After walking out of the House chamber shortly before the midnight deadline for passage of the bill, Texas Democrats gathered at Mt. Zion Baptist Church late Sunday in what the Texas Tribune described as a “nod at a last-minute addition to the expansive bill that set a new restriction on early voting hours on Sundays, limiting voting from 1 pm to 9 pm.”

“Over the last two days, Democrats had derided the addition — dropped in during behind-closed-door negotiations — raising concerns that change would hamper ‘souls to the polls’ efforts meant to turn out voters, particularly Black voters, after church services,” the Tribune reported.

Under Texas law, two-thirds of the 150 House members must be present for the chamber to take a vote — a requirement that went unfulfilled due to the Democrats’ walkout, which came after the minority party’s earlier delay tactics appeared likely to fail.

“We’ve used all the tools in our toolbox to fight this bill,” state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-95), chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said in a speech outside Mt. Zion late Sunday. “And tonight we pulled out that last one.”

Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement that thanks to Democrats’ walkout, “one of the ugliest anti-voter bills in the country died today in the 2021 Texas Legislature.” But Labowitz emphasized that the fight is far from over and vowed to “remain vigilant against any attempt to bring back this racist bill in a special session.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, promised to do just that in a tweet late Sunday after S.B. 7 — one of the governor’s top priorities and part of a wave of GOP-led voter suppression measures nationwide — failed to pass before the legislative session expired at midnight.

S.B. 7 “will be added to the special session agenda,” Abbott wrote.

State Rep. Chris Turner (D-101), chair of the House Democratic Caucus, acknowledged that Democrats looking to kill S.B. 7 for good face an uphill battle given the GOP’s dominance of the Texas legislature and control of the governor’s mansion.

“We’re outnumbered. There’s no doubt about it. Republicans are in the majority,” said Turner. “Democrats are going to continue to use every tool in our toolbox to slow them down, to fight them, to stop them. What that looks like weeks or months down the road, I can’t predict at this point, but we’re going to fight with everything we’ve got.”

“We did our part to stop S.B. 7,” added state Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-45). “Now we need Congress to do their part by passing H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”