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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Texas voting bill passes the Senate. AWOL House Democrats are undermining their case.

At a time when political tensions are high, Texas Republicans are fueling a partisan fire by issuing civil arrest warrants for 52 of their Democratic colleagues who are refusing to show up to legislative votes because they oppose a bill under consideration that suppresses the voting rights of Texans. Given the GOP advantage in the Legislature, which saw the measure pushed through the Senate on Thursday, they are trying to block the legislation by preventing the necessary quorum from gathering to hold a House session.

We should expect our legislators to take a stand and hold the opposing party accountable on tough votes — in person.

Instead of trying to simmer down the rhetoric and work with their colleagues on the other side of the aisle, Republicans are now in the business of arresting them. House officers, specifically House sergeants-at-arms, made their way through the Texas Capitol on Wednesday delivering arrest warrants to the House Democrats’ staff members. Many of the Democrats initially traveled to Washington, D.C., to work with Congress on safeguarding voting rights but have largely returned to Texas, and Republicans are hoping the GOP escalation will bring their Democratic colleagues back to the House floor.

Though the Democrats served with warrants wouldn’t be jailed, they could be brought to the Capitol by law enforcement. The holdout Democrats say they are uncowed by the threat, however, and are preparing legal challenges to the warrants.

Let’s be clear: The reason the Democrats are trying so hard to prevent the voting bill from going forward is that it is not about election integrity, as the Republicans claim, but about disenfranchisement. The Texas bill would curb local voting options that would make voting easier, add new requirements to the voting process, ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting, bolster access for partisan poll watchers and enact stricter vote-by-mail rules. Given that Texas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation, these efforts only serve to make it harder for people to vote in the state.

So it’s understandable why the Democrats want to refuse to show up to vote — but they are choosing the wrong way to do it. Even though Texas Democrats are smart to band together and lobby Congress to push for federal voter protections that would trump any state disenfranchisement bills, their duty is to their constituents at home to represent them on the House floor by taking a stand and voting against this legislation.

Moreover, since refusing to attend legislative sessions is a violation of civil law as well as House rules, they forfeit at least some of their considerable moral high ground by choosing to block the democratic process rather than work within it as passionately as they can. In their fight to do what’s right, they also need to adhere to the constitutional obligations of their office.

While these state lawmakers are playing an important activist role, the role they really need to play is the one their constituents elected them for. We should expect our legislators to take a stand and hold the opposing party accountable on tough votes — in person. I like that Texas Democrats want to stand up for what’s right. But I also think there’s room for activism, taking a stand and doing their job.

As things currently stand, Democrats now risk a situation where the GOP will be able to muster a quorum, as about half of the House Democrats are back in the state of Texas and four returned to the floor Monday. In that case, the GOP could then pass the voting measures without their full-throated opposition and an accurate count of how much of the Legislature stands against them.

While it makes sense that the Texas Democrats are trying to amplify their cause at the national level, the fact remains that federal legislation is an uphill battle. If they can’t get the desired voting protections passed through Congress, it leaves them without a leg to stand on.

The Texas Democrats are also making a political error, since strikes like these can irritate voters and make it look like their party is just as willing as the GOP to play political games. The Republican leadership in Texas, meanwhile, has an opening to push the narrative that Democratic lawmakers are “shirking their responsibilities” to their state and their constituents.

Instead, the Democrats should be the ones winning the political argument. Half of Texas voters disagree with stricter voting measures, while only 45 percent support them. And it’s the GOP that has closed the legislative process until now, fast-tracking the voter suppression legislation and forcing members of the public who wanted to speak out on the bill to wait 17 hours to speak for just three minutes during the House committee marathon session that then advanced the legislation to the full House floor.

While Democrats acknowledge their actions are extreme, they believe their efforts are necessary to safeguard voter freedoms. But it’s exactly because of the high stakes and the justness of their cause that they need to get their response right. Because one thing is certain: The Republicans never will.

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