Liberal groups unite to fight GOP voting bills in special session

Chuck Lindell
Austin American-Statesman
Protesters cheer during a voting rights rally led by former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, at the Capitol on June 20.

More than 30 liberal advocacy groups have united to oppose Republican plans to change state voting laws during the special session of the Legislature that will begin July 8.

Operating under the umbrella Texas for All, the groups say they also have raised more than $2.5 million to distribute to Texans hurt by the February freeze — the better to highlight their belief that the Republican-led Legislature focused on divisive wedge issues instead of fully addressing problems with the power grid during the regular session, which ended May 31.

But most of the coalition's efforts will be directed toward the Republican successor to Senate Bill 7, a sweeping measure that sought to ban 24-hour and drive-thru voting, beef up election fraud laws and protect the ability of partisan poll watchers to monitor voting and vote-counting operations.

More:'Hoping to light a fire,' Texas Democrats seek to build momentum from walkout

A letter signed by the 35 founding coalition members called on politicians to avoid taking steps to restrict voting and instead make it easier and more accessible.

"We’ll fight the divisive and discriminatory voter suppression legislation this session and we’ll continue our fight until we pick leaders who reflect the very best of all Texans," the letter said.

SB 7 was killed in the closing hours of the regular session when House Democrats walked out of the Capitol, breaking quorum and forcing proceedings to shut down.

Gov. Greg Abbott has not formally listed the issues to be tackled in the 30-day special session, but he has said that reviving "election integrity" measures contained hin SB 7 will be a top priority for the legislative overtime.

Opponents promised to be ready.

"This is the start of a historic partnership, one that will lead to a state where leadership represents the priorities of Texans," said Val Benavidez, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, a coalition member.

Republicans insisted that the provisions of SB 7 were common-sense steps necessary to prevent voting fraud, improve the security of mail-in ballots and bolster eroded confidence in election results.

More:State bar investigating Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton over Trump election lawsuit

Democrats and other opponents argued that voter confidence was eroded by Republicans pushing the "big lie" — that Donald Trump was denied a second term as president due to fraud — even though no widespread voting fraud has been found in the November election.

"Time and time again, we've witnessed the people leading this state try to insulate their own power by rigging the rules and jamming through legislation that would undermine our democracy and hurt working Texans and people of color," said Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Critics of SB 7 were particularly opposed to provisions, added late in the session, to end early voting on Sunday mornings, when "Souls to the Polls" events are popular at Black churches, and make it easier to overturn election results by showing that fraud more likely than not changed the outcome.

"Protecting voting rights in this special session is absolutely crucial in order to ensure that all Texans have a say in the policies that impact their everyday lives and the lives of their families and communities," Marziani said.

Another coalition member, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said the combined organizations will present a powerful and united voice.

"Texans do not lead single-issue lives," said the group's executive director, Dyana Limon-Mercado. "Reproductive freedom is not possible unless every person in this state has the right to vote. Equitable access to the ballot ensures we can elect leaders who will fight for essential health care access and enact laws that protect our ability to make personal decisions about our own bodies."

More:Gov. Greg Abbott to convene special session of Texas Legislature on July 8

Coalition members say they will meet regularly to coordinate messages and help lawmakers fight Republican voting measures.

"Texas for All is a powerful united front of Texans from diverse walks of life coming together to stand up for a vision of Texas that is truly inclusive and equitable," said Emily Timm, co-executive director of the Workers Defense Action Fund.

Other groups in the coalition include the state Democratic Party, the ACLU of Texas, Common Cause Texas, the Texas Organizing Project, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club and disability rights group ADAPT of Texas.