Texas Democrats blocked a final vote on a proposed law that would tighten voting restrictions in the US’s second most-populous state, after staging a late-night walkout from the legislature following hours of tense debate.
The move by Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives denied the Republican majority a chance to pass the bill ahead of a midnight deadline that marked the end of the legislative session.
But Greg Abbott, the Republican governor, vowed to call back state lawmakers for another attempt to pass the legislation in a special session that could take place within days.
The new voting law, which was backed by the state Senate on Sunday after an all-night debate, is the Republican party’s latest attempt to limit ballot access across the country. The effort has emerged as a new flashpoint in the battle over the rules governing American democracy, which has been shaken by the effort by Donald Trump, the former president, to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
The Texas law would crack down on mail-in, drive-through and Sunday voting. The changes would mirror voting curbs introduced by other Republican-controlled states this year, including Florida and Georgia.
The new law would also make it easier for defeated candidates to contest election results through the courts, as Trump sought to do based on unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the presidential election.
Joe Biden, the US president issued a scathing statement on Saturday over the proposed changes in Texas, saying the law attacked “the sacred right to vote” in America.
“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,” Biden said. “It’s wrong and un-American. In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote,” he added.
Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, dubbed the proposal “Jim Crow 2.0, plain and simple” in a tweet.
Democrats are trying to counter the Republican drive to impose new voting curbs by passing legislation at the federal level that would ban certain restrictions and guarantee ballot access. Legislation has passed in the House but has stalled in the Senate, where the Democratic majority is not large enough to circumvent Republican opposition.
The voting restrictions passed in Georgia caused a rift between Republicans and corporate America, when many large companies came under pressure from employees and the public to resist legislation limiting people’s ability to cast ballots.
The tension has come on top of friction over the support of many Republican lawmakers for Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results. But the Texas legislation shows that Republican lawmakers are betting their traditional allies in the business community are unlikely to make a clean break with the party since they still support many of their policy goals, including low taxes and light regulation.
The Texas voting law was introduced as the traditionally conservative state has been gradually shifting towards the left, with Democrats within reach of winning statewide contests.
Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a nine-point margin in 2016 but beat Biden by six points in 2020.
Texas has the second-largest delegation to the US House of Representatives and the second-highest number of electoral college votes in presidential elections.
As well as moving to pass aggressive curbs on voting access, Texas Republicans have also sought to limit abortion rights as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and liberalise gun laws to allow people to carry weapons with fewer checks.
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