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Texas Democrats plan to flee state in bid to block Republican-backed election bills

People opposed to the Texas Republican-led effort to pass new voting restrictions are gathered at the State Capitol as they wait to testify before state lawmakers who began committee hearings on election integrity bills on July 10, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

Tamir Kalifa | Getty Images

Democrats in the Texas Legislature are planning to flee the state on Monday in an effort to block the advancement of Republican-backed election bills, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The move of at least 58 Democrats comes ahead of the vote on a new election measures and is expected to deny Republicans the quorum needed to conduct business in the chamber, the unnamed source said. Business is expected to halt until the special session ends or the lawmakers return to Austin. 

Texas is among the states that have worked to implement new election measures which critics say restrict access to the ballot box, in the wake of repeated false claims from former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen through voter fraud. The Texas Democrats’ planned departure only furthers the state legislative fight and national debate over voting rights. 

The group has arranged for two charter flights from Austin to Washington, D.C., and will use time there at the nation’s capital to drump up support for federal voting legislation, according to the source. 

However, the Texas Democrats’ plan to flee will risk their arrest. The legislature requires the presence of at least two-thirds of lawmakers to conduct state business in either chamber, in accordance with the Texas constitution. The unnamed source told NBC News that the Democrats expect to be tracked down by the Department of Public Safety at state Republicans’ request. 

The departure would be the second time that Texas Democrats have utilized that tactic to prevent the passage of a new voting measure. House Democrats walked out of the Capitol chamber during a regularly planned session in May, which denied Republicans a quorum to pass election legislation prioritized by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. 

However, Abbott responded to the walkout by calling a 30-day special session that began on July 8. 

On Sunday, lawmakers passed two voting measures, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, after approximately 24 hours of testimony and debate. GOP leaders plan to reconvene for the final vote starting Tuesday. 

Both measures would require voters to provide identification for mail-in voting, ban drive-thru and overnight options for early voting and add new criminal penalties for violating voting laws while also empowering partisan poll watchers. 

The bills have been criticized as discriminatory by Democrats and voter-rights advocates, who assert that the measures will suppress the votes of people of color and those with disabilities in Texas. 

To prevent the current legislation from passing, Texas Democrats would have to remain outside of the state until the special session ends. The move to break a quorum is still rare.

In May of 2003, over 50 Texas Democrats left the state in a bid to block a Republican-backed redistricting proposal. The Democratic state senators reportedly fled to New Mexico before a defector restored quorum. The redistricting bill eventually passed in October.

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