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Texas Voting Rights Stalemate Ends. GOP Will Push To Overhaul Elections

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Texas Legislature is back in business. The state House of Representatives now has a quorum, after a few of the Democrats who walked out weeks ago returned. For a while, the Democratic walkout blocked a Republican effort during special sessions to change voting laws. One of the Democrats who did not return to the state Capitol in Texas is Chris Turner, who is chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. Welcome to the program.

CHRIS TURNER: Good morning, Steve. Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: Why did some of your colleagues return?

TURNER: So, you know, we have 66 members of our Democratic caucus, and, you know, what's most important is to recognize that every member of our caucus is steadfastly opposed to these Republican efforts to make it harder for Texans to vote. And every member is committed to protecting the freedom to vote. When we left Texas on July the 12, 57 members of our 66 made the affirmative decision to break quorum to derail the bill in that first legislative session. We succeeded in that. That session expired with nothing passing.

INSKEEP: Right.

TURNER: We also said we'd use that time productively in Washington to advance the conversation nationally around the need for federal voting rights legislation. And we did that, and we have clear progress to show on that. So every member has to make the best decision, they believe, for their district. And we've had some members believe that the best decision was to return to the capital.

INSKEEP: Well, you - I think - is it fair to say that some of your members got outlasted by Greg Abbott, the Republican governor, who just called another special session and was clearly going to keep going until he got the voting legislation that he wanted?

TURNER: Look, we acknowledged that from Day 1, that Governor Abbott would certainly continue to call session after session. That's no surprise to any of us. And we said it, you know, on the day we left Texas, on July the 12, that, you know, there's - they will continue to push forward with this, which is why we need Congress to act and act very quickly to pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, because we can only hold this back for so long. We were very clear about that from the beginning. But I'm optimistic that Congress is moving in that direction.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk and just remind people a little bit about that. We should just remind people there are state voting laws, mostly passed by Republicans this year, which make changes in voting, in many cases restricting access to voting. There's also this federal bill that would set federal standards and effectively take power away from states to do some of the things that they have been doing. In Texas, you've raised objections to a host of problems with the legislation that now seems likely to go forward. But let me ask this. Is the legislation getting a little bit less objectionable as you go along?

TURNER: Well, I think it's terrible legislation. Let's start with that. But clearly some of the most onerous provisions of the bill have been dropped since the end of our regular session back in May. For example, at the end of the regular session, they were trying to limit Sunday early voting, which is an attack on the Souls to the Polls programs that a lot of churches run. They also had a provision to make it easier for a partisan judge to overturn an election without evidence. And so Republicans have backed away from those provisions because they're embarrassed and ashamed by them. No one's willing to take any responsibility for writing those provisions. And so those are two examples of really bad ideas that Republicans have backed away from.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm interested then if this bill has progressed to the point where instead of finding it to be an existential threat, you merely find it bad legislation - not that you're going to like it, but that it's not as terrible as it seemed to be?

TURNER: Well, we don't know what the final bill is going to look like, so I'll withhold judgment on that. But I think what's most important is that this is a bill, like bills in other states, that is completely unnecessary. It's predicated on the big lie. It's predicated on this false narrative of widespread voter fraud and that somehow Donald Trump actually didn't lose the last election, which we all know he did lose. So that's the fundamental problem with this bill. It's built on a lie.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds that we have left, I believe Governor Abbott has also called on the Legislature to change its quorum rules, I guess so you can't stop business again. Do you expect that's going to happen?

TURNER: No, I don't. You know, it takes two-thirds of the body to change the constitution, which is what he's talking about. And obviously, I don't think Democrats are going to be supporting that.

INSKEEP: Representative Turner, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

TURNER: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.