Texas Democrats Flee State in Protest to Block Voting Changes as Governor Promises Jail Time
"Once they step back into the state they will be arrested and brought back to the Capitol and we will be conducting business," Gov. Greg Abbott said
Democratic lawmakers in Texas fled the Lonestar State on Monday aboard two chartered jets in a surprise move meant to temporarily deny Republicans the ability to pass election reforms they say would make it harder to vote.
The lawmakers headed to Washington, D.C., instead of remaining in Austin, effectively paralyzing the state's House of Representatives and putting a halt to votes on the election changes and other measures until the legislators return or the session ends.
In D.C., the Texas Democrats are pressing Congress to pass the For the People Act (which is stalled in the Senate) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would require certain jurisdictions to receive approval from the federal government before making changes to their voting rules.
That provision had been mandated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Democrats and activists say such protections are still necessary because of the recent efforts in Republican-led states to enact more restrictive voting measures. (Conservatives say such measures, which in some cases echo Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election, are needed to ensure election integrity despite no evidence of widespread fraud.)
A source told CNN that Texas' Democratic minority kept their surprise trip a secret "because they can be legally compelled to return to the Capitol and believed law enforcement could be sent to track them down."
According to NBC News, the Texas Constitution requires that two-thirds of lawmakers be present to conduct state business in either the state House or Senate and those who are absent "can be legally compelled to return to the Capitol."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, vowed to use law enforcement on the errant lawmakers, saying in an appearance on Fox News: "Once they step back into the state they will be arrested and brought back to the Capitol and we will be conducting business."
The news from Texas comes after GOP lawmakers across the country, partially spurred by former President Trump's baseless claims of election rigging, have pushed for laws that would limit early and mail-in voting, among other changes.
In June, Texas Democrats staged a walkout to quash SB 7, a measure they argued amounted to draconian voter suppression. The protest prompted Abbott to convene the current 30-day special session of the legislature in which he promised to address "election integrity."
Abbott also threatened to withhold the pay of those who walked out.
Experts have long said there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud — even as there were renewed claims of such after Trump lost both the popular and electoral votes in his bid for reelection.
Trump's push to overturn his defeat was rejected by the courts and local officials, including Republicans, who said they did not find the "rigging" he claimed.
According to data gathered by the nonprofit Center for New Data, measures like restricting absentee and voter registration access would overwhelmingly affect Black voters.
In a statement released shortly after the second Texas walkout was made public, the progressive MOVE Texas group said it applauded the lawmakers for taking "a bold stand for our communities."
The statement continued: "This second walkout is a daring, but necessary move to preserve the freedom to vote in Texas: the freedom from which all other liberties emanate ... Make no mistake, we will do whatever it takes to prevent these measures from becoming law. The stakes are simply too high."