A majority of Texas Democrats will flee the state in order to block the advancement of a series of Republican-backed voter suppression bills barreling their way through the state’s legislature, where floor votes on the new legislation were expected as early as this week.
The extraordinary plan, which for now reportedly includes 55 out of the 67 Democratic lawmakers, will deprive the state’s GOP of the two-thirds quorum required to conduct state business and effectively shut down Texas’ House of Representatives. NBC reports that Democrats will jump aboard two private planes Monday evening and head to Washington, DC where they’ll call for voting rights protections on the federal level. Chief among those demands will likely include a call to end the Senate’s filibuster, which Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, have used to block votes on non-budgetary legislation despite being in the Senate’s minority.
“We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol,” a group of Texas Democrats said in a statement. “We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans—and all Americans—from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”
The walkout this week will come as something of a last-ditch, high-profile campaign to call attention to voter suppression efforts taking root in Texas. As my colleague Ari Berman wrote last week, those GOP-backed efforts include a ban on drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, the addition of new ID requirements for mail voting, and a prohibition on election officials proactively sending out absentee ballot request forms—all ahead of next year’s midterm election.
Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke, say that these new proposed rules, which stand out amid a national wave of voter suppression bills popping up in legislatures across the country, would make it substantially more difficult to vote in a state already notorious for creating obstacles to casting a ballot. “This election bill would take it to a place so far removed from democracy that it would beg the question: What kind of form of government would we have?” O’Rourke said.
The move by Texas Democrats has some precedent. In 2003, Democratic lawmakers staged a similar walkout, fleeing to Oklahoma, to block a vote on a Republican redistricting plan. After a long standoff that eventually made it to the Supreme Court, the bill passed, and Republicans gained six congressional seats.