Voting rights legislation sits in Congress while states move ahead with reforms

(WASHINGTON) — Democrats repeated calls for Congress to pass sweeping voting rights legislation after efforts to pass election reform in Texas led to a walkout by House Democrats over the holiday weekend.

The calls for federal legislation come as restrictive voting bills work their way through Republican-led state legislatures.

Two major voting rights bills are being considered by Congress, including the sweeping voting reform For the People Act and the more narrowly tailored John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

The For the People Act, which was passed in the House in early March, would include setting a national standard for voting registration and mail-in voting, expanding independent non-partisan redistricting in each state, and introducing major campaign finance.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the pre-clearance formula from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The bill passed the House in December 2019, but has not been taken up by the 117th Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Friday he plans to bring the For People Act to the floor for a vote later this month, but it faces a challenge getting passed in the Senate.

Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told ABC News in an exclusive interview that he supports the narrower measure named after John Lewis, and does not support the sweeping For The People Act.

Beyond convincing moderate Democrats like Manchin, Democrats also have to get the support of 10 Republicans, which is a tall order.

Fourteen states have already passed restrictive voting laws this year. Nearly 400 bills were filed nationwide, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Texas is the latest state to consider a voting rights bill that proved to be contentious before it died in the House after failing to meet a critical deadline. The bill, Senate Bill 7, includes a ban on drive-through voting, new restrictions for mail-in ballots, changes to early voting hours and increased regulation of the kind of access poll watchers could be granted. The bill also lowered the burden of proof threshold for challenging election results.

Republicans said the goal of the bill was to secure “election integrity,” though critics of the legislation said many of its voting logistics provisions and increased criminal penalties would have affected communities of color disproportionately.

Late Sunday night, Democratic legislators took a stand by walking off the House floor with just an hour left for the bill to meet a critical voting deadline. The move left the chamber without a quorum — or the required number of lawmakers present in order for business to be valid — and blocked the bill from clearing a final vote before heading to the governor’s desk for signature.

“Members take your key and leave the chamber discretely. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building,” Chris Turner, chair of the state’s House Democratic Caucus, said in a text message late Sunday to state House Democrats, obtained by The Texas Tribune and confirmed by ABC News.

But the outcome may be short-lived — the following day, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for the Republican priority issue of “election integrity” to be added to a special legislative session call schedule. He also threatened to defund the state legislature in response to the bill’s failure, which would revoke the salaries of legislators and their staff.

“I will veto Article 10 of the budget passed by the legislature. Article 10 funds the legislative branch. No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” Abbott said in a tweet Monday. “Stay tuned.”

Abbott has until June 20 to follow through with his veto.

On the heels of the fallout over the voting bill, former President Donald Trump released a statement endorsing Abbott in his gubernatorial run on Tuesday and praising his stance on a slew of conservative-backed issues. The former president lauded Abbott for being “all in on Election Integrity.”

Although Abbott has made his focus on addressing the Republican push for election integrity clear, he has not indicated when the special session taking up the issue would take place.

If a similar bill ends up making its way through the lengthy legislative processes in the overtime session, Democrats could potentially break quorum once again. However it may be more difficult to repeat the events of Sunday night given that the Department of Public Safety could be deputized to seek out and return members back to the chamber or lock the chamber doors to keep them inside to complete the vote.

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