Every member of the El Paso legislative delegation will join their Democratic colleagues in Washington, D.C., in an effort to stop Republican state lawmakers from passing restrictive voting legislation during the special session.

State Reps. Joe Moody, Mary González, Lina Ortega and Claudia Ordaz Perez arrived in D.C. Monday. State Rep. Art Fierro was en route Tuesday morning, Moody told reporters, and state Sen. César Blanco will travel Tuesday afternoon, his chief of staff said.

“Leaving the state of Texas and leaving home is not a decision that we took lightly,” González said. “It was literally the last opportunity we had to protect the most important right we have as a democracy, which is voting.”

At least 55 Democrats left Austin Monday to deny the Texas House the quorum necessary to proceed with legislation filed during the special legislative session that started July 8. 

House Democrats have said they will remain in D.C. through Aug. 6, the final day of the current session, to prevent their Republican colleagues from passing bills that would ban drive-thru and 24-hour voting, prohibit elections officials from sending mail-in ballot applications to voters who don’t request one, and add ID requirements for mail-in ballots. These provisions will make it harder for voters of color to cast a ballot, Democrats said.

“This session we passed alcohol-to-go where you can get alcohol through a drive-thru, but you can’t even vote through a drive-thru,” Ordaz Perez said. “It just shows you how egregious this type of bill is.”

Some State Senate Democrats will join their House colleagues in the nation’s capital, according to reports.

“​​Texas has a long and dark history of intentional voter suppression and intimidation,” Blanco said in a statement. “Yet, we have come a long way in expanding access to voting for marginalized citizens, for minorities, for women, and for our youth. But the freedom to vote is a fragile thing and must be fought for and defended constantly each generation.”

House Democrats said their goals include calling on the U.S. Congress to pass federal legislation to protect voting rights.

Such legislation, however, has stalled. Just last month, U.S. Senate Republicans filibustered the For The People Act, which would create national standards for early voting and voter registration.

“It’s true that federal legislation has stalled, but that’s even a stronger, better reason for us to be here (in D.C.) because we want to get them (federal lawmakers) to move,” Ortega said. “It’s important that we send a strong message to them that we care enough and if they don’t do something, not only is it going to hurt the state of Texas, it’s going to continue in other states as well.”

Texas House committee meetings scheduled for Tuesday were canceled because of a lack of quorum. Only 80 members of the 150-member chamber were present, with 63 or the 67 Democrats absent, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

House lawmakers voted Tuesday to send state law enforcement to bring their colleagues back to Austin using arrest warrants if necessary. In an interview with Austin media Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott doubled down on that consideration and said he’s prepared to call multiple special sessions to get his way. A special session of the Legislature can only last for 30 days but the governor isn’t limited on how many he can convene.

“I can and I will continue to call a special session after special session after special session all the way up until (the) election next year,” Abbott said. “And so if these people want to be hanging out wherever they’re hanging out on this taxpayer-paid junket, they’re going to have to be prepared to do it for well over a year.”

Moody said Tuesday the House Democratic Caucus paid for members’ travel costs with money it fundraised. Former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke is also raising money to support House Democrats’ effort via his Powered by People organization.

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, put forth a resolution to strip absent lawmakers of their committee chairmanships, such as González’s position as vice chair of the budget-writing appropriations committee. She also serves on the public education committee and Moody is currently the House Speaker Pro tempore.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, confirmed Tuesday that such action was not allowed under House rules.

Passing elections legislation is one of the governor’s 11 priority items for the special session. House and Senate Democrats’ absence puts these items in jeopardy.

Ortega charged Abbott with using the election bills, in addition to his push for increased border security funding, to solicit campaign contributions for his re-election bid. Abbott is seeking a third term in 2022 and faces multiple Republican challengers. Abbott has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for president in 2024. 

“This is not what legislations policy should be about,” Ortega said. “It should be a bipartisan effort where everybody is working together, and that’s what we hope will also happen as a result of this.”

Cover photo: Texas State Capitol House chamber in Austin, Texas (Photo courtesy Niagara, Wikimedia Commons; no changes were made to this image)

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014.