87th LegislatureCriminal JusticeElections 2020FederalIssuesState HouseState SenateElection Integrity Bill Fails After House Democrats Walk Out, Abbott Vows It Will Return in Special Session

The Republicans’ election security bill went down in flames after Democrats walked out of the House as it was being considered.
May 31, 2021
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The stakes could not have been higher on Sunday for the Republicans’ keystone elections bill, and months of controversy over the outcome of the presidential election culminated with Democrats walking out of the House chamber and leaving Chairman Briscoe Cain’s (R-Deer Park) bill to be thrown in the trash.

An objection to a motion to excuse Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) from the House floor failed by vote of 86 to zero due to a lack of a quorum, as almost all Democrats had left the floor.

“[SB 7] was not a response to the [Big Lie]; the Big Lie was an excuse for SB 7. It takes us down the road towards sham elections — [fascism] disguised a democracy,” Moody wrote on Twitter after the bill was lost. “SB 7 is now dead because of the rules, and a society where truth and rules matter is what I’ll always fight for.”

Shortly after Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) raised a point of order that there was no quorum in the Texas House, which Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) sustained, Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement that he would add election integrity legislation to the special session agenda.

“I declared Election Integrity and Bail Reform to be must-pass emergency items for this legislative session. It is deeply disappointing and concerning for Texans that neither will reach my desk,” Abbott said.

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“Ensuring the integrity of our elections and reforming a broken bail system remain emergencies in Texas. They will be added to the special session agenda. Legislators will be expected to have worked out the details when they arrive at the Capitol for the special session.”

Phelan blasted Democrats in a statement after the walk-out, saying they had acted to “disrupt the legislative process by abandoning the legislative chamber before our work was done.”

“Texans shouldn’t have to pay the consequences of these members’ actions — or in this case, inaction — especially at a time when a majority of Texans have exhibited clear and express support for making our elections stronger and more secure.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also echoed calls to consider election reform in a special session for SB 7 and a number of other bills that did not make it during the regular session.

“The Texas Senate passed all these priority bills months ago and we will again. The [Texas House] failed the people of Texas tonight. No excuse,” Patrick said on social media, adding to a feud between the House and Senate that has been ongoing for a number of days.

Abbott has expressed skepticism of a summertime special session to pass legislation that lawmakers left unfinished during the regular session, though he is widely expected to call lawmakers back in the fall to redraw the state’s legislative districts. The legislature was unable to complete that task during the regular session due to the delayed release of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Though today is the last day of the regular session, Sunday was the last day for the House to pass conference committee reports, discharge House conferees, or concur in Senate amendments.

On the day before the Texas legislature adjourns “sine die,” the Texas House failed to pass Senate Bill (SB) 7, an elections bill that, if it had passed, would have implemented a variety of reforms to strengthen protections for poll watchers and provide more recourses for candidates who suspect voter fraud, among a number of other reforms. Proponents contend the bill will make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat,” while opponents deride it as “voter suppression.”

Prior to the debate on SB 7, the House passed a resolution Cain offered to allow state representatives to consider new language the conference committee added that had not been included in either SB 7 or HB 6. 

Several Democrats, such as Democratic caucus Chairman Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) and Rep. John Bucy III (D-Austin), who is on the House Elections Committee, rose to decry the attempt to bring the new language before the body just hours before the last day of the regular session. Turner said the new language took an “already horrific bill” and made it worse.

Among the new provisions Democrats protested was one that allows courts to overturn an election if the number of impermissible votes is equal to or greater than the margin of victory, without a finding as to which candidate received the illegal votes.

Reps. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) and Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) tried to kill SB 7 with several points of order, all of which were either withdrawn or overruled by Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).

After some procedural quibbling during the weekend, the Senate began considering SB 7 at about 12:30 a.m. on Sunday and adopted the conference committee report by a party-line vote of 18 to 13 shortly before sunrise after several hours of debate.

The elections bill has received notable attention in part because of widespread suspicion among many of former President Trump’s supporters, many of whom were alarmed by incidents of fraud and others who believed the election was stolen altogether. Trump’s campaign was unable to prove its claims of widespread fraud in the federal district court system, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the cases.

The elections proposal had also made its way through the Texas House before the chamber agreed to a conference committee to resolve the differences between SB 7 and the House version of the bill, House Bill (HB) 6.

Throughout the regular session, House Elections Chairman Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) has butted heads with Vice-Chair Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) and other Democrats over HB 6. The House ultimately replaced the Senate version of the bill with HB 6 and passed it by a vote of 81 to 64.

During one hearing on HB 6, Cain had temporarily ceded control of the committee to Gonzalez, who then tried to usurp Cain’s role as chair when she attempted to recognize Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), who is not a member of the committee, to speak on the bill.

Though state representatives often speak from the dais in committees of which they are not members, Cain had previously indicated to Collier and his colleagues on the committee that Collier would not be permitted to speak in that format.

In subsequent meetings, Cain handed off the gavel to Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) to act as chair rather than Gonzalez.

Democrats on the committee called on the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor the committee’s proceedings. Gonzalez has been among a chorus of Democrats accusing the G.O.P. of racial prejudice for considering the legislation. The bill does not mention race or target specific geographic areas, but skeptics believe it will deter turnout among racial minorities and persons with disabilities.

Cain, the primary author of HB 6, has rebutted those claims by saying the bill is designed to protect voters from being exploited by paid voter harvesting efforts, aggressive vote by mail schemes, and other untoward election activities by buttoning up portions of the elections code and criminalizing improper interference with ballots and balloting.

Even President Biden weighed in on the bill before the Senate considered it, blasting the proposal in a statement as an “assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year.”

“Today, Texas legislators put forth a bill that joins Georgia and Florida in advancing a state law that attacks the sacred right to vote,” Biden said.

Repeating accusations that Texas lawmakers are creating policies that are conducive to racial prejudice, the president added, “It’s wrong and un-American. In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote.”

Some lawmakers, including Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) and Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), balked at the president’s criticisms.

“Like most, I guarantee you [Biden] hasn’t even read the bill. What a joke,” Leach wrote on social media on Saturday night.

A section-by-section summary of the elections bill can be found at this link.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.