The GOP voting restrictions push that left the Texas House scrambling to round up absent Democrats was poised to also shut down work in the Texas Senate Wednesday as state Sen. Carol Alvarado announced she would filibuster the GOP’s priority voting bill.
Though Democrats are outnumbered in the chamber, they are occasionally able to foil legislation by speaking on it indefinitely — usually ahead of a key deadline or the end of the legislative session.
The Houston Democrat’s filibuster of Senate Bill 1, however, will likely end up being more of a symbolic gesture than a credible attempt to delay passage of the bill. The Legislature is on just the fifth day of a 30-day special session, called as Democrats have left the House without enough members present for the Republican majority in that chamber to pass legislation.
Ahead of her filibuster, Alvarado told The Texas Tribune she would be using a “tool in our box that is a Senate tradition” just as House Democrats were using their quorum break to hold up the bill.
“I’m using what I have at my disposal in the Senate,” Alvarado said, acknowledging the bill would eventually pass in the Senate. “The filibuster isn’t going to stop it, but a filibuster is also used to put the brakes on an issue — to call attention to what is at stake — and that is what I am doing.”
To sustain the filibuster, Alvarado must stand on the Senate floor, without leaning on her desk or chair, and speak continuously. If she strays off topic, her effort can be shut down after a series of points of order.
The target of Alvarado's filibuster, SB 1, is the Senate’s revived effort to restrict voting by forbidding local officials from taking various steps to make voting more accessible, and further tightening the vote-by-mail process. SB 1 is nearly identical to legislation the Senate approved in the first special session, and is opposed by Democratic lawmakers, civil rights groups and advocates for people with disabilities who have raised concerns the bill would limit access and suppress marginalized voters.
Pushed under Texas Republicans’ mantle of “election integrity,” SB 1 enhances partisan poll watchers’ freedoms inside polling locations and sets new rules — and possible criminal penalties — for those who assist voters, including those with disabilities, cast their ballots.
“We’re talking about [it being] easy to vote, hard to cheat, and that’s what this bill is about,” state Sen. Bryan Hughes, the Mineola Republican who authored the legislation, said before Alvarado began her filibuster. “It cracks down on those vote harvesters, those paid political operatives who try to coerce voters, who try to mislead voters, who try to get in between the voter and her ballot. We will not have that in Texas.”
But the bill would also outlaw local voting options like the 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting efforts championed in Alvarado’s home county, Harris County, even though the top elections official for the Texas Secretary of State has told lawmakers he is not aware of evidence of fraud tied to those initiatives.
Those prohibitions have piqued particular outrage by Democrats and voting rights advocates because Harris County has indicated the initiatives were particularly successful in reaching voters of color.
Advocates for people with disabilities have also continued to warn Hughes and other lawmakers that the wording of SB 1 risks disenfranchising the voters who lawmakers claim they want to protect by limiting the assistance voters with disabilities could receive and potentially subjecting those helping them to increased penalties for mistakes.
The bill also prohibits local election officials from sending unsolicited applications to request a mail-in ballot, even to voters 65 and older who automatically qualify to vote by mail, or providing applications to local groups helping to get out the vote. Political parties would still be able to send out unsolicited applications on their own dime.
The eventual passage of SB 1 in the Senate is expected to be the latest strike in Republicans’ struggle to clamp down on the state’s voting process, which has now extended into a second round of legislative overtime amid the Democrats’ blockade in the House.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/11/texas-voting-bill-filibuster/.
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