Texas Senate approves elections bill as House Democrats decamp in D.C.

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The Texas Democrats’ exodus to Washington, D.C., may have hamstrung the Lone Star State’s House but not its Senate.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 1, the elections legislation at the top of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott‘s special-session agenda, by a vote of 18-4 along party lines. The 31-seat chamber maintained a quorum despite the absence of nine Democratic senators.

House Democrats flew Monday by air charter to Washington to prevent the House from voting on the bill, decrying it as a voter-suppression measure.

But Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes said the legislation was “about making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Mr. Hughes said the bill would expand voting hours statewide, allow absentee voters to fix defects in their mail-in ballots, increase security by installing cameras at central county facilities and ensure that poll watchers “can see and hear the activities that they’re already under current law legally entitled to observe.”

Democrats argued that the bill would make it more difficult for disabled voters to cast ballots, citing the legislation’s restrictions on assisting such voters. The bill also would ban drive-thru voting and bars counties from widespread mailing of absentee-ballot applications.

“How can we in good conscience approve legislation when persons with disabilities tell us it makes it harder for them to vote?” Democratic state Sen. Judith Zaffirini said on the floor. “How can we in good conscience approve legislation that persons of color tell us makes them feel unwelcome to participate in our democracy?

Mr. Hughes argued that such measures are needed to combat illegal ballot-harvesting, citing testimony from cases in which voters said they were told by apparent political operatives to enter booths with harvesters who filled out ballots for them or told them which boxes to mark.

“The opportunity for a voter with a disability to receive assistance in casting their ballot, it’s fair, it’s right and it’s necessary,” said Mr. Hughes. “We want to make sure that voters with disabilities have the same rights as those without disabilities. Here’s what we can’t do: we cannot let these paid partisan cheaters take advantage of that process to cheat, to get in between the voters and their ballots.”

The Texas Senate also passed a bail reform bill, but the measures cannot advance until the House has a quorum.

The Texas House voted Tuesday to instruct the sergeant-at-arms to bring back the absent Democrats, using arrest warrants if needed, but authorities cannot do so until the legislators return to Texas.

Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner said Tuesday at a press conference in Washington that at least 57 of the 67 Democratic House members had instructed the clerk to lock their voting machines at their desks.

The Texas Democrats have vowed to stay away until the end of the special session on Aug. 7 if necessary to block the elections legislation, while Mr. Abbott has said he will keep calling 30-day sessions indefinitely until they return.

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