The Texas legislature finally voted on August 31 to approve the election reform bill pending for much of the summer. The bill was postponed for several weeks after 57 Democratic lawmakers walked out of the Capitol and fled the state, denying the body a quorum.
The bill has now been sent to Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has said that he is enthusiastic about signing it into law.
Democrats in Texas and around the country and most commentators in the corporate press have aggressively attacked the bill as a Republican attempt to suppress votes in the state. Republicans have touted the bill as a means to promote election security, integrity, and transparency.
The law will discontinue some measures adopted for the 2020 election because of the COVID pandemic, including 24-hour and drive-through early voting.
The new law will require voters to verify their identity on absentee ballots and restricts paid ballot harvesting schemes. It also prohibits election officials from sending out unsolicited mail-in ballots and requires all voting systems used in the state to maintain a physical paper record of votes by the 2026 election season. In counties with large populations, spaces where ballots are counted, must be monitored with video recordings that will be stored and maintained.
The “runaway” legislators traveled to Washington, D.C., by private jet to enjoy the hospitality of national Democrats and to express support for election reform laws at the federal level.
As regular and special sessions of the Texas legislature were stalled out in the absence of a quorum, Republican legislators voted to send the Sergeant at Arms staff out to track down the runaways. Early last month, the state House Speaker issued civil arrest warrants for the willfully absent members.
Governor Abbott vetoed the funding bill for absent members as well as their staff. He said that the money that would have been paid to them should not go to anyone who “quit their job early.”
The runaways filed a lawsuit in a state trial court and obtained a restraining order that prohibited their civil arrest for return to the state capitol building. Abbott and the state House Speaker appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, which overruled the trial court and dissolved the restraining order.
With no options left, enough Democrats returned to the legislative session to allow the bill to move forward to the inevitable vote they delayed for weeks on end. It remains to be seen if the state will take any action to recover any financial losses incurred due to the “runaway” operation.