After March to Austin, Activists Turn to Washington to Rally For Voting Legislation

Dozens of Texas House Democrats have been in the nation's capital since the start of Gov. Abbott's special legislative session

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After hundreds of people completed a Selma-to-Montgomery-style march on Saturday that started in Georgetown and ended at the state Capitol in Austin, activists from around the country gathered in Washington Monday to rally for voting rights.

Friendship-West Baptist Church Pastor Frederick Haynes was part of the Texas march and was in Washington Monday for a group of events to push for federal voting legislation, including a march and a rally. Some, including Haynes, were arrested for not leaving the Capitol.

“As a Texan, I’ve got to stand up and say that there are some Texans who believe that everyone should have free and fair access to the ballot,” Haynes said.

For three weeks, most Texas House Democrats have been in Washington. They have been lobbying lawmakers and others for federal legislation that would supersede any local election laws passed.

Democrats say the bill they are trying to kill during the special legislative session suppresses the vote. Earlier this month House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) had a response to critics.

“Show it to me,” he said.

Phelan pointed to a uniform election code after some counties made changes to voting practices during COVID-19.

“I just say let’s have a uniform election code across all 254 counties. We don't prosecute under 254 penal codes. We shouldn't have elections under 254 election codes,” he said.

The bill includes proposals to impose voter ID requirements, limit ballot drop boxes and mail voting, and give partisan poll watchers greater access.

While the group has remained in Washington, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) has said he will continue to call special sessions until House Democrats return.

We asked House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner  if the democrats would go back if another special session was called.

“We have stated that we‘re going to finish out this session here in DC, and kill the Republican anti-voter bills in this legislative session, and we’re focused on achieving that goal," he said. "We can't control what Gov. Abbott does and we‘ll consider our next steps as we get closer to that time."

Turner said he felt their push in Washington has helped create movement in the U.S. House and Senate for federal elections bills.

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