Texas Republicans OK arrest of Democrats who blocked voting bill

Dozens of Democratic legislators fled the US state last month to stop the passage of a bill they said would restrict voting rights.

US Senator Jeff Merkley joins members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus who left Texas to block voting on a bill they say rolls back rights [J Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press]

A top Texas Republican legislator has signed civil arrest warrants for 52 Democratic legislators who fled the state last month to prevent the passage of a bill they say would restrict voting rights.

The measure, which came on Tuesday night after Republican state lawmakers in Texas voted earlier in the evening to allow the arrests, permits authorities to detain and bring the legislators to the state capitol upon their return to Texas.

Texas authorities have no jurisdiction to retrieve the legislators in Washington, DC, or elsewhere outside of Texas.

The move is part of a larger effort by state Republicans to force a vote on the controversial voting legislation, which has gained national attention and has been condemned by President Joe Biden.

While Republicans have the votes needed in the state’s House of Representatives to pass the legislation, a mass exodus of Democratic legislators from the state in July prevented the quorum needed to proceed with the vote.

Democratic legislators had previously staged a walkout in the chamber in May to stop an earlier vote on the legislation.

State Democrats on Tuesday were quick to condemn the warrants, which were signed by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan.

“Texas Republicans continue to show they’ll stop at nothing to cling onto their power, but Texas Democrats made a promise to defend the #FreedomToVote at all costs,” the Texas Democratic party tweeted.

At least two dozen of the Democratic legislators who fled the state remain in the US Capitol, where they have sought national support for their cause, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The signing of the warrants on Tuesday came hours after the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court overturned an earlier ruling that said Abbott and Phelan did not have the authority to arrest the missing legislators.

Controversial law

The Texas bill, which is supported by the state’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott, comes amid a raft of state laws that advocates say would restrict voting access for some residents.

It would make mail-in voting more difficult by requiring voters to give extra information and barring local officials from sending absentee ballot applications to anyone who did not request one. It would also end after-hours and drive-through voting.

Supporters, meanwhile, say Senate Bill 7 is designed to make voting more secure.

Democrats nationwide have argued that Republican legislatures across the country have seized on former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud in the November 2020 presidential election to introduce laws that would roll back voting rights.

Meanwhile, efforts to protect voting rights at the federal level have stalled in the US Senate.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies