Texas Senate Passes Restrictive Voting Bill After Democrat’s Filibuster

The Texas state Senate voted Thursday morning to advance a bill that would make voting more difficult statewide after one Democratic member spent 15 hours delaying its passage by filibuster.

The Democrat, state Sen. Carol Alvarado of Houston, began speaking early Wednesday evening, clad in running shoes and a back brace on Day 5 of a special legislative session convened by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). She was not permitted to sit or lean against her desk, take bathroom breaks, eat a snack or drink water for the duration of her filibuster.

At issue was Senate Bill 1, the latest iteration of a Republican effort to tighten voting laws in Texas on the pretense that voter fraud affected the 2020 presidential election results, despite a complete lack of evidence that such fraud was widespread and unchecked. This Republican effort led more than 50 Texas Democrats to flee the state in July.

By leaving, the Democrats were able to deny Texas Republicans the quorum of two-thirds needed to conduct legislative business in the state House. As a result, the Democrats managed to temporarily block the elections bill in the hope that Congress would swiftly pass voting rights protections at the federal level. 

Abbott convened a new special legislative session in Texas on Saturday, having vowed to call one special session after the other until both chambers vote on the elections bill. The absent Democrats once again prevented the state House from reaching a quorum, but the state Senate quickly took up the bill, which is not substantially different from earlier versions. If passed, Texas would have some of the most restrictive voting laws in the United States.

While Alvarado’s filibuster never stood a chance of actually blocking the bill from passing the state Senate, it allowed her an opportunity to draw attention to the issue of voting rights.

Democrats and civil rights groups maintain that the Texas elections bill disproportionately targets voters of color, outlawing locally enacted measures that made voting more accessible to the elderly, people with disabilities and people who might otherwise struggle to take time off work to vote. It would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting, prohibit local governments from sending unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots, and empower partisan poll watchers, among other changes that Republicans say are necessary to preserve election integrity. 

Alvarado characterized the bill as anti-democratic, saying that “instead of making it easier to vote, it makes it easier to intimidate. Instead of making it harder to cheat, it makes it harder to vote.” 

″[President Lyndon B. Johnson] said the Voting Rights Act struck away the last major shackle of the fierce and ancient bond of slavery,” Alvarado said, according to the Texas Tribune. “Senate Bill 1 is a regressive step back in the direction of that dark and painful history.”

Alvarado read messages from some of her constituents who supported measures like drive-through voting. 

“My friends, voter suppression anywhere is a threat to democracy everywhere,” she said as she wrapped up her filibuster Thursday morning, The Washington Post reported

Alvarado’s 15-hour oration earned praise from her fellow Democrats and voting rights advocates nationwide. 

“I need everyone to sent their support to TX Sen. Alvarado,” tweeted Jamie Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee. 

Texas Democrats have attempted to make their case in Washington, D.C. ― where at least two dozen of them remain after leaving Austin in mid-July ― by speaking to reporters and members of Congress about the dire need to hold off the GOP’s anti-voter measures.

“The rights of voting Texans live on borrowed time under Texas Republicans,” Texas Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D) said last month.

On Tuesday night, Texas’ Republican House Speaker, Dan Phelan, signed arrest warrants for 52 House Democrats who left the state last month to protest the elections bill. The state’s conservative Supreme Court had cleared the way for their arrests hours before. 

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