The latest on voting rights in the US

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 6:13 PM ET, Tue July 13, 2021
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12:29 p.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Texas House Republicans approve a measure to arrest members who are absent

From CNN's Dianne Gallagher

The Texas State Capitol is seen in Austin, Texas, on June 1.
The Texas State Capitol is seen in Austin, Texas, on June 1. Eric Gay/AP

Upon reconvening in Austin on Tuesday morning, a quorum is not present in the Texas state House.

By a vote of 76 to 4, a motion was approved to direct the Texas House Sergeant at Arms to send for all unexcused absent members in an effort to secure a quorum, "under warrant of arrest, if necessary."

Texas law enforcement does not have jurisdiction in Washington, DC, so it is unlikely the order will have much effect while the Texas House Democrats remain out of state. 

However, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told KVUE on Monday that once the state House Democrats return to Texas, “they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done.”

The Texas Constitution does allow for a smaller number of members than a quorum to vote to compel the attendance of absent members.

11:53 a.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Here's where voting rights legislation stands in Congress

From CNN's Fredreka Schouten

Demonstrators hold up signs as the Declaration for American Democracy coalition hosts a rally calling on the Senate to pass the For the People Act, outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday, June 9. 
Demonstrators hold up signs as the Declaration for American Democracy coalition hosts a rally calling on the Senate to pass the For the People Act, outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday, June 9.  Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

The so called For the People Act was a test vote for Democrats in their fight to pass federal voting reform legislation. With the defeat of that legislation in the Senate last month, they're now looking to push for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters after the For the People Act failed, that she and President Biden intend to continue to push for voting reform, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is likely to come to the Senate floor later this year.

At least 17 states across the country have enacted laws that make it harder to vote, if passed, the act could reverse some of the restrictions passed by states.

This proposal, named after late Georgia Democratic congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis aims to restore enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act. It first became law in 1965, shortly after a bloody law enforcement attack on peaceful voting rights activists on a bridge in Selma, Alabama, shocked and shamed the nation into action.

The Voting Rights Act's requirements — that nine states and parts of others with a history of racial discrimination win federal approval, or "pre-clearance" before changing their election procedures — were nullified by the Supreme Court in its 2013 Shelby County v Holder decision. (The court didn't strike down pre-clearance but said the law relied on an old formula that needed updating. Congress hasn't agreed on a new formula in the intervening years.)

Soon after the ruling, states began erecting new barriers to voting, ranging from voter ID laws to signature-matching requirements. And those efforts ramped up this year with many Republican-controlled states proposing a raft of new voting restrictions, spurred on by former President Trump's false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

A recent version of the new John Lewis Act would extend pre-clearance to states that have incurred multiple voting rights violations in the last 25 years — an attempt to get around the Supreme Court majority's concern in Shelby that states were being punished for decades-old misdeeds, rather than current discriminatory practices.

Although a version of the Voting Rights Act rewrite passed the House in an earlier Congress, the John Lewis Act is not actually a bill right now. Committee hearings to fine-tune its provisions are planned as a precursor to its reintroduction in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has procedural avenues to bring the bills to the floor, but they are unlikely to ever pass unless the 60-vote threshold to overcome a legislative filibuster is dismantled.

And West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, along with Republicans and several other moderate Democrats, opposes abandoning the filibuster.

Read more about it here.

11:44 a.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Texas state representative says traveling to DC over voting rights is not a "stunt"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Armando Martinez, a member of the Texas House of Representatives who was part of the group that left Texas in an effort to block Republicans from passing voting restrictions, said the move is not a “stunt." 

“I think we've used the rules to our benefit. I think Democrats once again are very resilient and have come out ahead and utilizing anything that we have available placed on the table in order to address this,” Martinez said to CNN’s Kate Bolduan.

Martinez said the group plans to meet with members of Congress “to discuss the importance of voting rights and making sure that we can pass the Voting Rights Act to address this situation and this anti-democratic suppression session that we're facing in Texas.” 

“Even though we're in the minority, we still have a voice, and our voice is very powerful when you have over 50 members coming to Washington, D.C,” he added. 

Martinez also responded to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s remarks that he will continue to call special legislative sessions and that Democrats who traveled to DC “will be arrested.” 

“The governor is not the king,” Martinez said. “We live in a democracy. And so he can't just make those types of statements. And secondly, the misstatement about this being a taxpayer junket is totally false,” saying that the House Democratic committee paid for their travel. “Those are dues that we pay as members of the House Democratic Caucus,” he said. 

11:12 a.m. ET, July 13, 2021

No White House meetings planned for Texas Democratic lawmakers

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

The White House is focusing today on the importance of voting rights and democracy, with President Biden poised to deliver a major speech this afternoon in Philadelphia.

While the President’s speech will highlight the new laws – and pending legislation – in states across the country that restrict ballot access, there are no plans for Biden to meet with the Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled to Washington in hopes of blocking such a law in Texas. 

A senior administration official said no meeting was planned at the White House today – or in the coming days – between the President and the Texas Democrats, who are on Capitol Hill today.

The official said the President was strongly opposed to the proposed Texas legislation and will talk about it today and in the future, but a meeting is not expected. 

“No. No meetings are planned,” the official said of the President and the Texas legislators, cautioning that this could always change.

Bottom line: Even though the President will deliver his biggest address yet on this topic, a speech that is expected to excoriate Republican efforts to make it more difficult to vote, the White House does not see it in their best interest to have the President meet with the Texas legislators now.  

11:13 a.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Texas House Democrats call on "power of the presidency" and lay out strategy for their time in DC

From CNN's Jessica Dean and Annie Grayer

Texas State House Democrats made clear to reporters on Tuesday that their goal over the next few weeks while they are in Washington, DC, is to put extensive pressure on Congress to pass voting rights legislation that will help combat the restrictive legislation trying to be enacted by the Texas Republican-controlled Congress.

“Our message is very simple,” Chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus Chris Turner said. “Our intent is to stay out and kill this bill this session, and use the intervening time I think 24, 25 days now before the end of session to implore the folks in this building behind us to pass federal voting rights legislation.” 

Democratic Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who co-sponsored the Texas State House members at the Capitol, put the spotlight directly on President Biden, who is slated to give a speech on voting rights later today.  

“We need the power of the presidency,” Doggett said in terms of how voting rights legislation can be pushed through Congress to become law.

Turner said that the roughly 57 Texas State House Democrats that fled their state went into this with their “eyes wide open,” about the reality that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will just call another session as soon as they return home, but is optimistic about the kind of pressure this group can put on members of Congress.

Turner pointed to the fact that all 50 Democratic senators recently coalesced around a version of HR1 as a sign that the needle is moving in the right direction. He said he hopes that more Democrats get behind Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s idea that Democrats create a filibuster carve out for voting rights legislation, like Mitch McConnell did when he was Majority Leader for Supreme Court nominees.

“If you can have a carve out for a right-wing Supreme Court Justice, why can't you have a carve out to protect the very fundamental voting rights,” Turner posed. 

When asked by CNN’s Jessica Dean to respond to GOP Sen. John Cornyn, who is from Texas, calling this group’s trip a “publicity stunt” Turner said, “I hadn’t seen that but I think our two US Senators wrote the book on publicity stunts,” and called on Cornyn to work with the Texas Democrats.  

Texas State Rep. Rafael Anchía told reporters “we are not going to buckle to the big lie in the state of Texas” in his pledge to continue to push for legislation that makes it easier to vote in the state of Texas.

Dean of the Texas House Democratic Caucus Senfronia Thompson told reporters, “I’m not up here to take a vacation in Washington, DC.”

“I'm going to make sure that everything that I could do that my constituents rights will not be stripped of them because of what they believe,” Thompson said. “Trump lost the election, and they need to tell the people of this country the truth and if they won’t, I’m going to.”

At the end of the news conference, the group sang a few lines from “We Shall Overcome.”

10:44 a.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Schumer says he plans to meet with Texas Democrats today to "plot strategy"

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday spoke at length about the importance of protecting voting rights as Texas Democrats are at the US Capitol today after leaving the state on Monday in an effort to block GOP from passing restrictive new voting laws. 

Schumer said he plans to meet with the Democratic Texas lawmakers today “to plot out strategy and to praise them for what they are doing.”

Schumer slammed former President Donald Trump in his floor remarks for perpetuating the “Big Lie” and argued Republicans across the country are actively dismantling all the barriers that prevented Trump from subverting the 2020 election. 

He touted how Democrats were “united for the first time this Congress” on a sweeping voting and elections bill, that Republicans blocked from advancing. He reiterated how he reserves the right to bring it up for another vote.  

10:43 a.m. ET, July 13, 2021

Why Texas House Democrats are vowing to stay out of the state until the special session ends in early August

Analysis by CNN's Chris Cillizza

The visuals were powerful. Two chartered planes taking off from Texas — and landing in the nation's capital — filled with Democratic legislators fleeing a Republican attempt to pass one of the nation's most stringent voting bills.

But the political reality for those Democrats — and for voting rights advocates around the country — is significantly grimmer: There is almost no way for this strategy to succeed.

What Democrats did in leaving the state is rob Republicans in the Texas legislature of a quorum — a term signifying when there are enough members present for the legislative body to do its business.

Texas Republicans pledged to do everything they could to find a legislative workaround for the lack of a quorum, but it's possible that if Texas Democrats stay in DC that the clock will run out on the special session Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, called to pass this election bill (and a few other measures).

That would mean that that these Texas Democrats would spend almost a month away from home — and the state. (If they returned to Texas, Abbott could have them arrested and forced back to the state House.) Which is a long time!

But let's say they do it. Stay away from Texas until the special session expires. What happens next? Abbott simply calls another special session.

Abbott has the power to just keep calling special sessions for the foreseeable future. Which would force the Texas House members who fled the state on Monday to stay away from the state for, potentially, months. Which is simply not practical. You can't stay away forever, and Republicans are well-positioned — they control the governorship as well as both state legislative chambers — to wait Democrats out.

Texas (and national) Democrats know that, of course. What their flight to Washington on Monday is really about is a) drawing national attention to the voting bill in the state b) buying themselves some time to strategize and c) giving themselves the only sort of leverage they can have in a state legislature totally dominated by the opposing party.

Read the full analysis here.

10:29 a.m. ET, July 13, 2021

NOW: Texas House Democrats hold news conference after leaving state to block GOP voting bill

From CNN's Eric Bradner, Dianne Gallagher and Paul LeBlanc

Source: Pool
Source: Pool

Texas House Democrats are holding a news conference on Capitol Hill after they left the state Monday in an effort to block Republicans from passing a restrictive new voting law in the remaining 27 days of the special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Two chartered planes carrying the majority of the Democrats who left Texas for Washington, DC, landed at Dulles International Airport on Monday evening, a source familiar told CNN. They have largely kept their planning secret because they can be legally compelled to return to the state Capitol and believed law enforcement could be sent to track them down, two sources familiar with the Democrats' plans had told CNN earlier Monday.

The group is "hoping" to meet with US Senate Democrats, according to a source familiar with their plans.

Their move places Texas at the heart of the national fight over voting rights, with GOP state lawmakers turning former President Donald Trump's lies about widespread voting fraud into a push for new laws that limit mail-in voting, early voting and more.

Read more here.

10:11 a.m. ET, July 13, 2021

A SCOTUS decision limited the ability of minorities to challenge state voting laws they say are discriminatory

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc

The US Supreme Court is seen in Washington, DC on July 1.
The US Supreme Court is seen in Washington, DC on July 1. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Additional pressure on President Biden to act on voting rights came earlier this month when a Supreme Court decision limited the ability of minorities to challenge state laws they say are discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act.

The high court upheld two provisions of an Arizona voting law:

  • The first provision says in-person ballots cast at the wrong precinct on Election Day must be wholly discarded.
  • Another provision restricts a practice known as "ballot collection," requiring that only family caregivers, mail carriers and election officials can deliver another person's completed ballot to a polling place.
"In a span of just eight years, the Court has now done severe damage to two of the most important provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a law that took years of struggle and strife to secure," Biden said in a statement reacting to the decision. "After all we have been through to deliver the promise of this Nation to all Americans, we should be fully enforcing voting rights laws, not weakening them."

Beyond pushing for a sweeping voting rights package and denouncing restrictive state-level laws, Biden's Tuesday speech will also take aim at Trump's continued election lies. During a rambling Sunday address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Trump returned again and again to election-related lies.