Texas Democrats rejoice when the U.S. House passes federal voting rights law

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that strengthens the federal Voting Rights Act as Texas Republicans work in Austin to move quickly on new voting restrictions the bill seeks to circumvent.

Federal legislation, which was passed along party lines, would again require states with a history of discrimination, including Texas, to receive federal approval to make changes to voting laws.

It comes as the Republican-controlled Texas legislature rushes to pass a new bill that Democrats say is designed to make it harder for black and Latino jeans to vote. The state bill includes measures that would limit postal voting and separate voting and expand the oversight of partisan observers of the polls., while restricting the ability of election officials to deal with those they believe are offline.

“The Texas Republican Party has made it absolutely clear that they really don’t want communities of color, seniors, and Latinos to vote,” U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat, said before the vote. “The original Voting Rights Act was designed to stop this kind of behavior.”

Republicans have considered measures to be essential to protect themselves from possible election fraud and have said Democrats are exaggerating their effects on people of color.

Under legislation passed by the House on Tuesday, the federal government would decide whether future election laws will suppress minority votes. The federal bill, named after former U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon who died last year, would restore sections of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court has removed. including the pre-authorization provisions required by Texas to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before enacting new voting laws.

No Republican supported the bill, which he argued would amount to “decision-making by the federal government.”

U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington, a Lubbock Republican, said the bill would “steal” the “right of the state to safeguard the integrity of its election.”

“We shouldn’t do that,” said U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Tyler’s Republican. “We let states and local governments do the work that the Constitution gave them.”

Meanwhile, Democrats presented the bill as a rejection of Republicans’ claims of widespread voting fraud despite no evidence.

“It will protect us from this deception,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston.

The vote began the Democrats’ latest effort to pass new voting rights laws, which party leaders have said is a top priority, as Republican-led state legislatures have pushed for a series of voting restrictions after record turnout in the 2020 elections.

Texas Democrats, who spent much of the summer in DC pushing Congress to pass new voting laws while boycotting the state legislature to stop the election bill, became deserving of keeping it in place. top of the national party to-do list.

“Members of Congress told us directly,‘ Your state here has made this considered next year to be considered now, ’” Houston State Representative Penny Morales Shaw said.

Before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the applause from Texas Democrats, who said they “fight for the right to vote.”

But how far this struggle will go remains uncertain. The latest vote comes just weeks after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz blocked Senate Democrats’ efforts to advance a series of other bills that the Texas Republican denounced as a “massive takeover by Democrats.” “. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised at the time that voting rights would be the first issue when he returned to the Senate in September.

Texas Democrats said they expected the John Lewis Bill to turn out better than the previous bill, though it seems unlikely given that the bill was narrowly passed by the House in a vote on the line. party.

They said key members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (a moderate Democrat from West Virginia), told them the bill could garner bipartisan support in the Senate. It would need the support of at least ten Republicans to pass the House and Texas senators are unlikely to be part of those who would vote on the bill.

Some Texas Democrats still hold out

The last time Congress re-authorized the Voting Rights Act, in 2006, it passed the Senate with a 98-0 vote. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, then voted for it and it was signed into law by another Texas Republican, former President George W. Bush.

Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stressed the history of the bill on Tuesday, calling it “as bipartisan as anything that has been present.”

“I hope there is also a certain level of bipartisanship,” Pelosi said.

The Supreme Court has weakened the Voting Rights Act with several rulings on its applications, including a 2013 decision that ended the previous liquidation. Since then, Texas has enacted a number of new voting laws, including electoral identification laws. A 2019 law bans temporary polling places, which had often been used by Texas counties during early voting, especially on college campuses or nearby.

The new version of the Voting Rights Act re-elaborates the formula that determines which states should obtain federal approval to pass new voting laws. These new formulas were written with a look at the survival of the future high court scrutiny.

Cornyn has suggested that she still doesn’t think it’s over, piulant a Wall Street Journal who opposed the bill and wrote, “It is likely that a House bill that revives the ‘authorization’ requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act will be unconstitutional.”

A handful of Texas Democrats returned to Washington on Tuesday to vote in the House and urged the Senate to act quickly.

Any bill passed by the legislature in the coming weeks would likely take 90 days to come into force, a brief window in which Texas Democrats argue the federal government could still intervene.

“It’s a race to the finish line,” said Dallas Democrat State Representative Jasmine Crockett. “Obviously we want the feds to get there first, and obviously the governor wants to get there first because Texas has been found to be intentional discrimination over and over again.”

Meanwhile, they said, they urge their Democratic colleagues who returned to Austin to consider leaving again if the vote bill hits the Texas House floor this week.

“We hope that when they see the dynamics, that there is nothing that exceeds the importance of the rights that will be jeopardized by these bills and that they will decide not to recreate the quorum,” Morales Shaw said.

Others said they were frustrated and baffled by those who decided to return to the House after twice killing Republican Party voting restrictions earlier this year, especially those in Harris County, which expanded the options. vote during the pandemic that would point to many of the new restrictions.

“Why did you never leave? It looks like we made the decision that July wasn’t a good month to pass this bill, but it is August, ”said State Representative Joe Deshotel, a Beaumont Democrat.“ We were so close to killing. this bill again and then I think they would have abandoned the issue and moved on to redistricting, because that’s much more important to Republicans. “

ben.wermund@chron.com