Texas Dems abandon House floor - blocking passage of voting bill before final deadline

In a last ditch attempt to block a sweeping GOP voting bill, all Democrats walked off the House floor Sunday night, preventing a vote on the legislation before a fatal deadline.

The Republican priority bill is an expansive piece of legislation that would alter nearly the entire voting process, create new limitations to early voting hours, ratchet up voting-by-mail restrictions and curb local voting options, like drive-thru voting.

Democrats have argued the bill was an act of voter suppression that would make it harder for people of color to vote in Texas. Republicans, however, called the bill an “election integrity" measure — necessary to safeguard Texas elections from fraudulent votes.

In Texas and nationally, efforts to further restrict voting have been rooted in baseless claims of widespread fraud for which there is virtually no evidence.

Debate on Senate Bill 7 had extended over several hours as the Texas House neared a midnight cutoff to give final approval to legislation before it could head to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk to be signed into law.

Democrats had appeared to be trickling off the floor throughout the night, a number of their desks appearing empty.

During an earlier vote to adopt a resolution allowing last-minute additions to the bill, just 35 of 67 Democrats appeared to cast a vote. Around 10:30 p.m., the remaining Democrats were seen walking out of the chamber.

Their absence left the House without a quorum — which requires two-thirds of the 150 House members to be present — needed to take a vote.

Their departure came after a message from Grand Prairie Democrat Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

“Members take your key and leave the chamber discretely. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building," Turner said in a text message obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Later, in a statement, Turner said the walkout only came after it appeared their plan to run out the clock on the House floor with speeches wasn't going to work.

"The 67 members of the House Democratic Caucus have been fighting SB7 — the Republican anti-voter legislation — all year long. Tonight we finished that fight," Turner said. "It became obvious Republicans were going to cut off debate to ram through their vote suppression legislation. At that point we had no choice but to take extraordinary measure to protect our constituents and their right to vote."

With about an hour left before the midnight deadline, House Speaker Dade Phelan acknowledged the lost quorum and adjourned until 10 a.m. on Monday morning. Midnight was the cutoff for the House and Senate to sign off on the final versions of bills that have been negotiated during conference committees.

After adjourning, Phelan took aim at the Democrats and noted that their actions killed other bipartisan legislation.

“Today, on the second to last day of session, a number of members have chosen to disrupt the legislative process by abandoning the legislative chamber before our work was done," Phelan said in a statement. "In doing so, these members killed a number of strong, consequential bills with broad bipartisan support including legislation to ban no-knock warrants, reform our bail system, and invest in the mental health of Texans – items that their colleagues and countless advocates have worked hard to get to this point. Texans shouldn't have to pay the consequences of these members' actions -- or in this case, inaction -- especially at a time when a majority of Texans have exhibited clear and express support for making our elections stronger and more secure."

SB 7 was one step away from the governor's desk following. It was negotiated behind closed doors over the last week after the House and Senate passed significantly different versions of the legislation and pulled from each chamber's version of the bill. The bill also came back with a series of additional voting rule changes that weren't part of previous debates on the bill.

Abbott tweeted that lawmakers should expect to finish the job during a special session.

"Election Integrity & Bail Reform were emergency items for this legislative session.They STILL must pass.They will be added to the special session agenda," he said in a tweet. "Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session."

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, echoed the call for a special session to pass SB 7 and other Republican priorities that have died in the House.

"The Texas Senate passed all these priority bills months ago and we will again. The TxHouse failed the people of Texas tonight. No excuse," Patrick tweeted.

By 11:15 p.m. about 30 Democrats could be seen arriving at a Baptist church located about two miles away from the Capitol in East Austin. Several members declined to comment on their departure from the floor that blocked the vote.

The location for Democrats' reunion appeared to be a subtle nod at a last-minute addition to the expansive bill that set a new restriction on early voting hours on Sunday, limiting voting from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. 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 after church services.

Over the last few months, SB 7 has been at the forefront of Republicans' broader efforts to further restrict voting after the state saw the highest turnout in decades in 2020. With Republicans in full control of state government, the odds that it would make it to the governor's desk were always high.

Still, the legislation has evoked heated debates between Republicans and Democrats — the last one in the House taking a particular focus on the last-minute additions to the bill. The final version of the bill was negotiated behind closed doors, growing well beyond what the House and Senate originally passed into a wide-ranging 67-page bill with many additions that were only revealed to the full House on Saturday.

Portions of the bill were specifically written to target voting initiatives Harris County used in the last election — such as a day of 24-hour early voting, drive-thru voting and an effort to proactively distribute applications to vote by mail — that were heavily used by voters of color. But under SB 7, those options will be banned across the state.

It sets a new window for early voting from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and makes it a state jail felony for local officials to send mail-in ballot applications to voters who did not request them. It would also be a felony to provide those applications to third party groups, like the League of Women Voters, that get out the vote. It also expands the freedoms of partisan poll watchers, granting them “free movement" within a polling place, except for when a voter is filling out their ballot.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/05/30/texas-voting-restrictions-house/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

After drastic changes made behind closed doors, and an overnight debate

In the course of several hours Saturday and early Sunday, Senate Republicans hurtled to move forward on a sweeping voting bill negotiated behind closed doors where it doubled in length and grew to include voting law changes that weren't previously considered.

Over Democrats' objections, they suspended the chamber's own rules to narrow the window lawmakers had to review the new massive piece of legislation before giving it final approval ahead of the end of Monday's end to the legislative session. This culminated in an overnight debate and party line vote early Sunday to sign off on a raft of new voting restrictions and changes to elections and get it one step closer to the governor's desk.

Senate Bill 7, the GOP's priority voting bill, emerged Saturday from a conference committee as an expansive bill that would touch nearly the entire voting process, including provisions to limit early voting hours, curtail local voting options and further tighten voting-by-mail, among several other provisions. It was negotiated behind closed doors over the last week after the House and Senate passed significantly different versions of the legislation and pulled from each chamber's version of the bill. The bill also came back with a series of additional voting rule changes, including a new ID requirement for mail-in ballots, that weren't part of previous debates on the bill.

But instead of giving senators the 24 hours required under the chamber's rules to go over the committee's report, including those new additions, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, moved to ignore that mandate so the Senate could debate and eventually vote on the final version of the bill just hours after it was filed.

Around 6 p.m. Saturday, Hughes acknowledged the Senate would consider the report "earlier than usual" but tried to argue he was giving senators "more time" by alerting them about his plan to debate the final version of SB 7 at 10 p.m.

"That's a nice spin," state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, shot back.

The Legislature is up against a Sunday night deadline to approve conference committee reports, like the compromise version of SB 7. Had the Senate waited until later Sunday to consider it, it could have left it in reach of a filibuster that could've killed the bill. The House is expected to vote on the final version of the bill later today.

Senate Democrats raised concerns that they had not had sufficient time to review the 180-page conference committee report, including a 67-page bill and a lengthy analysis of the negotiated changes. Roughly 12 pages of the bill contained additions that hadn't been previously considered as part of the legislation and were added by the committee out of the public eye. The truncated schedule also left them without the opportunity to check in with local election officials in their districts or voting rights groups monitoring its passage, they said.

After Senate Republicans voted to suspend the rules, Hughes opened debate on a resolution to approve those 12 pages of additional changes, with Democrats questioning the origin of those changes and the lack of public input in tacking them onto the bill.

"I couldn't in good faith vote to pass a bill the size of this one, that will affect the voting rights of every single Texan of voting age, when they've been deprived of the opportunity to voice their opinions on the final package of this bill," state Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, said.

Throughout the debate, Hughes argued SB 7 was striving for "common sense" solutions that secured elections from wrongdoing and fraud.

"We want elections to be secure and accessible," he said.

Defending the additions as a standard part of the conference committee process, Hughes argued many of the additions were pulled from other bills passed by the Senate or generally discussed by the chamber.

The new provisions include language from separate Republican bills that failed to pass that would set a new voter ID rule for mail-in ballots, requiring voters to provide their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, if they have one, on their applications for those ballots. For their votes to be counted, voters will be required to include matching information on the envelopes used to return their ballots.

Other changes, including a new window of 1 to 9 p.m. for early voting on Sundays, hadn't come up until they were added to the conference committee report outside of public view. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, raised the possibility that change could hamper "souls to the polls" efforts meant to turn out voters after church services and questioned the justification for 1 p.m. start time.

"Those election workers want to go to church, too," Hughes responded.

When West asked if Hughes had spoken to election workers to make that determination, Hughes admitted he hadn't.

"We're going to be able to buy beer at 10 o'clock in the morning but we can't vote until 1 p.m.," West said.

Beyond the debate over the new changes, the Senate's discussion on SB 7 regularly landed on the detrimental effect Democrats feared the legislation would have on voters of color and the significant portions of the bill that were written to outlaw some of the voting initiatives Harris County used in the last election.

SB 7 would ban drive-thru voting and the day of 24 hours of uninterrupted early voting the county offered — both of which proved particularly successful in reaching voters of color. An analysis by Harris County's election office estimated that Black and Hispanic voters cast more than half of the votes counted both at drive-thru sites and during extended hours.

"The provisions of this bill apply equally across the board," Hughes said in response to Democrats' questions about the bill's effect on access for voters of color. He added that the provisions banning those voting initiatives could only target Harris County because it was the only county he was aware of that offered those options.

He also pointed out that the final version of SB 7 left out a provision to regulate the distribution of polling places only in the state's largest counties — diverse, urban counties largely under Democratic control. A Texas Tribune analysis found the formula proposed by Hughes would have led to a significant drop in voting sites in largely Democratic areas, with voting options curtailed most in areas with higher shares of voters of color.

Hughes said the decision to leave out that provision had been influenced by the Senate's initial debate on SB 7 when Democrats hammered the Republican over that proposal. But state Sen. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, pressed him on whether he had adequately considered the extent to which SB 7 could narrow access for voters of color, pointing to Hughes' decision to keep the ban on drive-thru voting despite the concerns Democrats raised about that provision.

"Because I represent a majority African American district and we benefited from the drive-thru voting that you're trying to ban now, I feel like you're coming for my district," Miles said.

Biden blasts Texas voter suppression as ‘wrong and un-American’

With Texas Republicans poised to sign off on a sweeping voting bill, President Joe Biden said Saturday that legislation like Senate Bill 7 that restricts voting access is "un-American."

"Today, Texas legislators put forth a bill that joins Georgia and Florida in advancing a state law that attacks the sacred right to vote, " Biden said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. "It's part of an assault on democracy that we've seen far too often this year — and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans."

SB 7, the Texas GOP's priority voting bill, would limit early voting hours, curtail local voting options and further clamp down on mail-in voting, among several other provisions. Biden's denouncement of the bill came just as a draft of the final version began circulating at the Texas Capitol. The House and Senate are expected to take final votes on the bill in the next day and send it to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature before it becomes law.

"It's wrong and un-American," Biden said. "In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote."

Texas Republicans began the 2021 legislative session staging a sweeping legislative campaign to pass new voting restrictions, proposing significant changes to nearly the entire voting process and taking particular aim at local efforts to make voting easier. It was formally touched off by Abbott, when he named "election integrity" one of his emergency items for the legislative session despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also named "election and ballot security" one of his priorities.

SB 7 ultimately emerged as the main vehicle through which state lawmakers, like Republicans across the country, would further restrict how and when voters cast ballots following the 2020 election.

"Overall, this bill is designed to address areas throughout the process where bad actors can take advantage, so Texans can feel confident that their elections are fair, honest and open," Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes said while presenting the bill to the Senate earlier this year.

While Republicans have tried to frame the legislation as one that standardizes voting rules across the state, substantial portions of SB 7 were written to specifically outlaw voting initiatives carried out last fall in largely Democratic Harris County, the state's largest county where voters of color make up a high share of the electorate.

That includes drive-thru voting to allow people to vote from their cars, extended early voting hours after the usual 7 p.m. cutoff and a day of 24 hours of uninterrupted early voting to reach shift workers who have trouble casting ballots during regular hours. Both initiatives — which proved particularly successful in reaching voters of color — would be banned under SB 7.

SB 7 also sets new windows for early voting — generally from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. — that would also slightly shorten the extra hours other large counties offered in the last election.

The legislation has been condemned by advocates for voters with disabilities, voter advocacy groups and civil rights organizations with histories of fighting laws that could harm voters of color. Throughout the legislative session, they've repeatedly warned lawmakers that SB 7 would raise new barriers to the ballot for marginalized voters, including voters of color and voters with disabilities, and that it likely violates federal safeguards for those voters.

The final version of the bill was negotiated behind closed doors over the last week after the Senate and the House passed significantly different versions of the legislation.

"It is fitting that the final push to get anti-voter Senate Bill 7 to the Governor's desk would take place behind closed doors, hidden from public scrutiny," MOVE Texas communications director Charlie Bonner said Saturday. "This bill does nothing to improve the security of our elections — it only makes our democracy weaker by limiting access for young, disabled, Black and Brown Texans."

SB 7 also clamps down on voting by mail, making it a state jail felony for local officials to distribute applications to request mail-in ballots to voters who didn't ask for them. This ban was also a response to Harris County's failed attempt to send applications to all 2.4 million registered voters last year, even though other Texas counties sent applications to voters 65 and older without controversy. Although those voters automatically qualify to vote by mail, SB 7 bans counties from proactively mailing unrequested applications to them in the future. Political parties can still send unsolicited applications, as both Republicans and Democrats often do before elections.

On Saturday, Biden also cited the imminent passage of SB 7 to a call on Congress to act on federal voting legislation that would significantly reform elections and another measure that would bring back federal oversight of state changes to voting law.

Until 2013, Texas was among the states under federal supervision of its election and voting laws to ensure they did not hamper the voting rights of people of color. Federal courts repeatedly found that Texas lawmakers discriminated against voters of color in their political mapmaking and in writing up new voting requirements, including the state's original voter ID law in 2011.

Disclosure: MOVE Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas will gain two seats in Congress -- as residents of color drive population gains

Texas will continue to see its political clout grow as it gains two additional congressional seats — the most of any state in the nation — following the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday.

Thanks to its fast-growing population — largely due to an increase in residents of color, particularly Hispanics — the state's share of votes in the U.S. House of Representatives will increase to 38 for the next decade. The new counts reflect a decade of population growth since the last census, which determines how many congressional seats are assigned to each state. Texas is one of six states gaining representation following the census. The other five states are each gaining one seat.

The 2020 census puts the state's population at 29,145,505 — up from 25.1 million in 2010 — after gaining the most residents of any state in the last decade. More detailed data, which lawmakers need to redraw legislative and congressional districts to reflect that growth, isn't expected until early fall. But census estimates have shown it's been driven by people of color.

Through 2019, Hispanics had accounted for more than half of the state's population growth since 2010, a gain of more than 2 million residents. And though it makes up a small share of the total population, estimates showed the state's Asian population has grown the fastest since 2010. Estimates have also shown the state's growth has been concentrated in diverse urban centers and suburban communities.

With its gain of two seats, the state's footprint in the Electoral College will grow to 40 votes. But Texas will remain in second place behind California for the largest congressional delegation and share of Electoral College votes. California is losing a congressional seat but will remain on top with 52 seats and 54 votes in the Electoral College. The other states losing seats are Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Florida, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will each gain one seat.

The state's political heft has been growing steadily for decades. Texas has gained at least one additional congressional seat after every census since 1950, according to the Census Bureau. It's gained two or more seats after every census since 1980.

Texas ultimately fell short of the three congressional seats it was projected to gain based on population estimates. Census Bureau officials on Monday indicated the state's 2020 population count was slightly lower — a difference of about 1% — than the estimates.

In the lead up the census, Republican Texas lawmakers shot down any significant funding for state efforts to avoid an undercount in the 2020 census, leaving the work of chasing an accurate count to local governments, nonprofits and even churches. Texas is home to a large share of residents — people who don't speak English, people living in poverty and immigrants, to name a few — who were at the highest risk of being missed in the count. With just a month of counting to go, Texas abruptly launched a last minute $15 million advertising campaign paid by dipping into federal dollars meant to address the coronavirus pandemic

The state's congressional delegation is currently made up by 22 Republicans and 13 Democrats, with one vacant seat following the recent death of Republican Ron Wright.

Congressional and state House and Senate districts need to be reconfigured before the 2022 elections to account for the new population figures, and spread residents across districts that were drawn to be close to equal in population 10 years ago but are now significantly out of balance.

But the Census Bureau is running far behind schedule in reporting detailed results because of delays forced by the coronavirus pandemic and interference from the Trump administration. The detailed population numbers lawmakers need to redraw districts to reflect the state's growth will be delivered by Sept. 30 — far past the end of the 2021 legislative session that ends next month.

This will almost certainly require Gov. Greg Abbott to call lawmakers back to the Capitol for a rare special session in the fall to draw new political maps. The litigation that will inevitably follow is likely to upend the election schedule for the 2022 primaries, when voters pick winners from each party to face off in the general election.

Decade after decade, federal courts have found that Texas lawmakers discriminated against voters of colors during their mapmaking by working to intentionally dilute the power of their votes, and their maps have regularly violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. The 2021 round of political mapmaking will be the first in nearly half a century without federal oversight that was meant to shield voters of color living in states with a long history of discrimination like Texas from discriminatory maps.

Texas' original maps from 2011 were eventually ruled unconstitutional and federal judges found lawmakers purposefully diminished the voting strength of voters of color in the Texas House and in several congressional districts. Court fights over the maps resulted in the 2012 primary elections being pushed back by more than two months even without any census-related delays at the time. Under the state's current schedule, the filing deadline for candidates hoping to be on the 2022 primary ballot is Dec. 13.

Texas GOP voting restrictions blasted as Jim Crow 'in a tuxedo'

Two nights of voting in Houston, eight months apart, each occurring as midnight slipped by, lay bare the fault line cutting through Texas' ongoing debate about voter suppression.

First, the March 3, 2020, presidential primary. On the campus of Texas Southern University, a historically Black college, hundreds waited in a line that wrapped through a campus library and out into a courtyard for four hours, then five, then six after polls were supposed to close at 7 p.m. — the result of an unexpected surge of Democratic voters and a mismanagement of voting machines.

Then in November, Houston residents — most of them people of color — were again voting after hours in the general election, but this time it was intentional. Harris County had set up a day of 24-hour voting to make it easier for voters, like shift workers, who face difficulty getting to the polls during traditional hours.

The first scene was one of frustration and disenfranchisement, not unusual in a state with some of the strictest voting rules in the nation. The second felt celebratory, a moment when it seemed democracy went right and people were welcomed to the voting booth.

It is the second scene that pushed Texas' Republican leaders to act.

Outlawing 24-hour voting is one part of Senate Bill 7, priority legislation backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and likely most Republicans in the ongoing legislative session. The bill would enact other sweeping changes to voting, including making it illegal for local election officials to proactively send applications for mail-in ballots to voters, even if they qualify, and restricting the distribution of polling places and voting machines in diverse, urban counties.

Their intent, GOP leaders say, is to protect the "integrity" and standardization of Texas elections from local efforts like those Harris County devised in November to expand voting access. But the pushback from local leaders, Democrats, big business and voting rights advocates has been intense, centering on concerns that the legislation's effects will almost certainly make voting harder for groups Texas' voting rules have long marginalized — voters of color, voters with disabilities, low-income voters and voters with limited English proficiency — and who are the most likely to be shut out when voting procedures are tightened.

In an angry press conference Tuesday, yelling at times, Patrick objected to suggestions that Republicans are deliberately targeting voters of color in Democratic strongholds.

"Senate Bill 7 is about voter security, not about voter suppression, and I'm tired of the lies and the nest of liars who continue to repeat them," Patrick said, focusing much of his ire on Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Harris County leaders who spoke up against the bill.

He continued: "You're questioning my integrity and the integrity of the governor and the integrity of the 18 Republicans who voted for this when you suggest that we're trying to suppress the vote. You are, in essence, between the lines, calling us racist, and that will not stand."

As they successfully shepherded SB 7 through the Senate over the last two weeks, Republicans argued that it is a race-neutral bill, not designed to discriminate, in part because the state's voter rolls are "color blind" and voters don't list their race or ethnicity when they register.

But to critics, especially those familiar with past election restrictions that Texas has passed that made it harder for already-marginalized voters to participate, "neutrality" is a false flag. The legislation passed the Senate with zero support from Democrats, including every senator of color in the chamber, who over seven hours of debate on the Senate floor listed concerns about the harmful effects the bill could have on voters of color.

"I'm in disbelief that our esteemed body would consider legislation we consider detrimental to countless persons of color. We urge you to hear our voice and public testimony," state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said just before the Senate advanced SB 7, noting that senators had not been provided with evidence that showed the 2020 election was anything other than "honestly run, fairly adjudicated and somewhat better attended."

"What we did hear, however, were numerous pleas from our fellow Texans not to do this," Zaffirini said. "We heard from men and women of color who interpret Senate Bill 7 as yet another sign that those who control their state do not welcome their participation."

The legislation is part of a broader Republican push to make changes to voting laws in a state with already restrictive rules. It echoes national efforts by Republicans in state legislatures across the country — largely built on claims of widespread voter fraud for which there is little to no evidence — to rework voting rules after voters of color helped flip key states to Democratic control.

SB 7 targets Harris County initiatives like extended early voting hours and drive-thru voting, which were disproportionately used by voters of color in November. The bill also singles out voters receiving assistance inside the polling place, including in filling out their ballot, by allowing poll watchers to record them if the poll watcher "reasonably believes" that the assistance is "unlawful." That provision has drawn particular concerns about the policing of voters with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency — most of whom are Hispanic and historical targets of voter intimidation in Texas — who would be among those most likely to receive help to vote.

Hours after SB 7 cleared the Senate, American Airlines became the first corporate giant to come out against the bill, citing provisions "that limit access to voting" and the need to break down barriers "to diversity, equity and inclusion in our society" instead of creating them. That opposition teed up a series of broader statements from other corporations calling for equal access to voting and came ahead of Major League Baseball's decision to pull its All-Star Game from Georgia in response to new voting restrictions there.

The pressure on corporate America to lend its weight against Republican proposals has continued to swell this week as voting rights advocates worked to frame the fight as one rooted in the civil rights movement and meant to protect the right to vote, especially for Black and Hispanic voters, whose access to the ballot box has been historically undermined.

Over the weekend, Black leaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area took out a full-page ad in The Dallas Morning News calling on local corporate leaders to work against the provisions of SB 7, which they called "unfair, unequitable and immoral," that make it easy for some Texans to vote while creating obstacles for others using a "familiar strategy." Its signatories included former Dallas Mayor and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell and Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall.

"Texas continues to engage in the same kinds of practices that produced the oppression that this great cloud of witnesses had to overcome," the Rev. Frederick Haynes III, a pastor at the Friendship-West Baptist Church of Dallas and a signatory on the ad, said Wednesday while standing with other faith leaders in front of the Texas African American History Memorial monument on the Capitol grounds. "Because unfortunately we have those in leadership in Texas government who have in their ideological DNA the same mindset … of those individuals who upheld Jim and Jane Crow segregation. Gov. Abbott and his Republican cronies have decided to dress up Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo of what they call voter integrity."

In response to the corporate blowback, Abbott — who declared "election integrity" a priority for the 2021 legislative session — announced he would no longer throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Rangers' home opening game and would boycott any other Major League Baseball events over "false political narratives" he claimed the league was pushing.

In a Fox News television interview Tuesday, Abbott said he was sending a message to Texas-based companies that have "made the very same mistake" of coming out against Republican proposals to change the state's voting laws.

"What we need to do is have these business leaders realize they don't need to be responding to tweets or these bogus arguments that were put forth by people like Stacey Abrams and others in Georgia," Abbott said.

Abrams, a former Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia and a prominent voting rights advocate, has denounced restrictions recently signed into law in Georgia, where she said Republicans had "outperformed in the category of suppressive laws" by shrinking the window for voters to request absentee ballots, imposing new voter ID requirements for absentee voting, and banning the handing out of water and food to people waiting in line to vote, among several other new restrictions. Like in Texas, the new rules were passed under the banner of securing elections.

Even in defending their proposals, Texas Republicans have run into the Legislature's own history of passing voting laws that were later found to unequally burden voters of color.

The lieutenant governor on Tuesday attempted to characterize the criticism of SB 7 as "race baiting" by those raising concerns about how it could suppress the votes of Texans of color, pointing to similar criticism Republicans faced when they worked to pass one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country in 2011. His defense was based on the increased voter participation the state has seen in recent elections — in part a result of a growing Democratic electorate and the draw of more competitive races. (Patrick cited the large increase in the raw numbers of votes cast, which is generally a reflection of the state's rapidly growing population and doesn't accurately capture increases in voter turnout over time.)

But Patrick left out that a federal judge and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — considered to be among the country's most conservative appellate courts — ultimately found the state's voter ID law disproportionately harmed voters of color, who were less likely to have one of the seven forms of identification the state required voters to present before they could cast their ballots. The law was blocked for years after it was passed and was eventually eased to match a judge's suggested rules.

As part of call on corporations to stand against SB 7 and other Republican proposals, Texas voting rights advocates and organizers also pointed to the state's increased turnout, and the voters of color behind it, to identify what they see as the genesis for the changes the Legislature is considering.

Although it topped out at 66% participation, Texas saw the highest turnout in decades in 2020. After the election, Republicans remain in full control of state government, but Democrats have continued to drive up their vote counts as the electorate continues to expand in the state's urban centers and diversifying suburban communities.

In a virtual press conference Tuesday, those advocates called Republicans out for imposing more restrictions on voting while refusing to consider measures like online voter registration that could open the door to more participation. The state should be building on the progress it made on turnout in 2020 instead of "advancing the path toward voter suppression," said Devin Branch of the Texas Organizing Project, which advocates for communities of color and low-income Texans.

"Every person who genuinely believes in democracy abhors attempts to undermine it, and these bills are harmful to democracy," Branch said. "This is about those in power seeking to retain power by disempowering and disenfranchising Black and Latino voters. Full stop."

Disclosure: Texas Southern University's Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Corporate giants come out against Texas Republicans' voter suppression efforts

Corporate giants American Airlines and Dell Technologies on Thursday became the first business heavyweights to lend their opposition to Republicans' legislative proposals to further restrict voting in Texas.

American Airlines took specific aim at Senate Bill 7, which would impose sweeping restrictions that take particular aim at local efforts meant to make it easier to vote — like extended early voting hours. Senate Republicans advanced that measure in a 2 a.m. vote Thursday.

"Earlier this morning, the Texas State Senate passed legislation with provisions that limit voting access. To make American's stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it," the company said in a statement.

Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell declared his company's opposition to House Bill 6, another voting proposal, in a Twitter post. That legislation would prohibit local election officials from proactively sending out applications for mail-in ballots and impose new rules for people assisting voters to fill out their ballots. The House Elections Committee on Thursday was hearing public testimony on the proposal that was expected to continue into the night.

"Free, fair, equitable access to voting is the foundation of American democracy. Those rights — especially for women, communities of color — have been hard-earned," Dell said. "Governments should ensure citizens have their voices heard. HB6 does the opposite, and we are opposed to it."

Both measures are legislative priorities for Texas Republicans, who this year are mounting a broad campaign to scale up the state's already restrictive voting rules and pull back on local voting initiatives championed in diverse urban centers, namely in Harris County, during a high-turnout election in which Democrats continued to drive up their margins. That push echoes national legislative efforts by Republicans to change voting rules after voters of color helped flip key states to Democratic control.

The statements of opposition by the two Texas businesses comes just a day after Black business leaders called on corporations to publicly oppose Republican-proposed restrictions across the country — a response to new restrictions in Georgia that were recently passed into law with little opposition from major companies.

SB 7 is one of the broadest proposals under consideration during the 2021 Texas legislative session. Beyond prohibiting extended or overnight voting hours meant to accommodate shift workers, it would outlaw drive-thru voting, make it illegal for local election officials to proactively send applications to vote by mail to voters, allow partisan poll watchers to video record some voters who receive assistance to fill out their ballots and set specific rules for the distribution of polling places in the state's largest counties — most of which are either under Democratic control or favored Democrats in recent national and statewide elections.

The legislation has been offered under the banner of "election integrity," with state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, defending it as a measure that "standardizes and clarifies" voting rules so that "every Texan has a fair and equal opportunity to vote, regardless of where they live in the state."

"Overall, this bill is designed to address areas throughout the process where bad actors can take advantage, so Texans can feel confident that their elections are fair, honest and open," Hughes said at the start of the Senate debate on the bill.

In response to American Airlines' opposition, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who deemed SB 7 a legislative priority — released a statement in which he argued the legislation included "comprehensive reforms that will ensure voting in Texas is consistent statewide and secure."

"Texans are fed up with corporations that don't share our values trying to dictate public policy," Patrick said.

But the legislation has been met by fierce opposition from Democrats and a collection of civil rights organizations that have warned its restrictions — and its focus on local initiatives pushed in Harris County — could lead to intimidation and disenfranchisement of voters of color and voters with disabilities. That coalition now includes representatives of corporate America.

"Any legislation dealing with how elections are conducted must ensure ballot integrity and security while making it easier to vote, not harder," the American Airlines statement read.

It remains to be seen if the corporate opposition to Republicans' proposals will match the barrage of outcry during the Texas Legislature's 2017 debate over a so-called "bathroom bill" to restrict transgender Texans' access to public facilities.

That year, transgender women, men and children from across Texas descended on the Capitol to testify about how the proposal could endanger their lives. They were joined by a broad faction of businesses — from local enterprises to top corporate executives, including the heads of dozens of Fortune 500 companies — in rallying opposition to the legislation, which failed to pass.

"Major Texas employers are stepping up and speaking out against voter suppression, and for good reason. Texas should not go down the same path as Georgia," said former House Speaker Joe Straus, the San Antonio Republican who helped bottle up the bathroom bill in the House. "It's bad for business and, more importantly, it's bad for our citizens."

Texas voting rights groups, including Texas Organizing Project, MOVE Texas and theTexas Civil Rights Project, have joined with Black Voters Matter to demand similar stands by corporations against Republicans' bills, including SB 7, starting with full-page ads in the local newspapers in recent days.

"We are calling for the business community to take a strong stand against current attempts to pass voter suppression legislation that amounts to Jim Crow 2.0," the groups said in the ads. "It must not be business as usual."

Disclosure: Dell and MOVE Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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