Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, has vowed to arrest Democrat lawmakers who have fled the state in an attempt to stop an overhaul of election laws that they say damages the right to vote, especially for communities of color.
Private planes carrying more than 50 Democrats left Austin for Washington DC on Monday, skipping town just days before the Texas house of representatives was expected to give early approval to sweeping new voting restrictions in a special legislative session.
The move denied the Republican-led legislature a quorum, leaving it with too few lawmakers in attendance to conduct business. That means it could not, at least for now, vote on the bill.
In response Abbott told an Austin television station he would simply keep calling special sessions of the legislature through next year if necessary, and raised the possibility of Democrats facing arrest upon returning home.
“As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas capitol until they get their job done,” Abbott said.
The cross-country exodus was the second time that Democratic lawmakers have staged a walkout on the voting overhaul, a measure of their fierce opposition to proposals they say will make it harder for young people, people of color and people with disabilities to vote.
But like last month’s effort, there remains no clear path for Democrats to permanently block the voting measures, or a list of other contentious GOP-backed proposals up for debate.
The Texas bills would outlaw 24-hour polling places, ban ballot drop boxes used to deposit mail ballots and empower partisan poll watchers.
The measures are part of a Republican drive across America rush to enact new voting restrictions in response to former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. More than a dozen states this year have passed tougher election laws but only in Texas have Democrats put up this kind of fight.
Texas Democrats, shut out of power in the state capitol for decades, last fled the state in 2003 to thwart a redistricting plan. They ultimately lost that fight.
Trump won Texas easily in 2020 and it is already one of the hardest places to vote in the US. It does not have online voter registration nor allow everyone to vote by mail. Texas was also among the states with the lowest turnout in 2020.
But it has been trending Democratic in recent election cycles, pushed in part by changing demographics, and the Republican effort is seen by many as a way of seeking to offset that change by making it harder to vote for groups who traditionally vote Democrat.