From left: Democratic State Representatives Senfronia Thompson, Nicole Collier and Diego Bernal.
Texas House Democrats, who left the state to block GOP-backed efforts to pass new election restrictions, are due to testify before a House subcommittee this week on those proposals.
State representatives Senfronia Thompson from Houston, Nicole Collier from Fort Worth and Diego Bernal from San Antonio are expected to appear before the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Freedoms of the Committee on Oversight and Reform of the US House of Representatives in a specially convened hearing on controversial Texas legislation, that would rewrite state electoral laws. The hearing, held in the middle of the third week of the Texas Democrats’ third week in Washington, DC, provides a more formal stage for them to speak out against the law that led them to leave for the capital.
“America is facing the most widespread assault on people’s voting rights since the voting bill was passed in 1965,” Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who heads the subcommittee, said in a statement. “Texas is now Ground Zero in this fight, and we are honored that these Texan lawmakers are coming to testify before our subcommittee on the fight to defend basic democracy in their state.”
The Texas Democrats have been in DC since July 12 when they left the state to deny Republicans the quorum required to move their legislation forward.
Since arriving, they have admitted that they do not have the votes to prevent the Republican majority in the legislature from eventually passing the bill. Instead, they have tried to formulate their protest as a call to Congress to act under far-reaching federal laws. Her focus is on two federal laws that would restore federal oversight of elections in states like Texas with troubling records and set new federal standards for electoral access, such as same-day and automatic voter registration.
The Texan legislation in question would prohibit local voting to expand access to voting, further restrict state rules on postal voting, improve access for partisan election observers, and create new rules – and possible penalties – for those who vote Ballot papers help with voting.
During their time in the capital, the Texas Democrats have held meetings with almost all of the most powerful Democrats in Washington, with the exception of President Joe Biden. But there is still no clear move to break the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule and put federal electoral law to a vote.
In his statement, Raskin said he hoped the hearing would help draw attention to the need for federal electoral law.
Nonetheless, the legislative theatricality has drawn national attention to the proposed Texan legislation and its potential impact on voters. Democrats have argued that their audience with Congressmen has also given them an opportunity to bring up the state’s recent violations that could set a record for why federal intervention is needed.
“It is important for them to know the specific stories that happen in Texas,” said State Representative Rafael Anchía at a recent press conference. The Dallas Democrat pointed to federal court findings that black voters had been deliberately discriminated against for the past decade and the state’s recent botched electoral roll review that put tens of thousands of naturalized citizens at risk. “It happens in real time and it’s very, very dangerous.”
Republicans have pushed legislation, citing the need to improve “electoral integrity” and reduce the likelihood of fraud, despite lacking evidence that voting irregularities are widespread in the Texas elections. In the past few weeks they have been reprimanding the Democrats for leaving office and not debating the bills at home.
Democrats have focused their opposition on concerns about the risk posed by legislation to disenfranchise voters, especially those of color and people with disabilities, by erecting new barriers or withdrawing voting initiatives such as drive-thru and overnight voting become. They were supported in their opposition by disability rights groups, electoral lawyers, and civil rights organizations with a long history of fighting for Hispanic and Black Texans.
On Thursday, Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, will also testify, who has raised concerns about the potential impact of GOP legislation on electoral access for Latinos.
A smaller delegation of Democrats had previously pitched in DC when the national spotlight turned the Texas election campaign following their first move to derail the passage of the law in late May. Their second breach of the quorum – this time behind state lines and the jurisdiction of the Texas law enforcement agencies sent to round them up – came just days after a special legislative session called on to revive the Voting Act and other GOP priorities.