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How the Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona may embolden Texas’ attempts to restrict voting

The Texas legislature gaveled in a special session Thursday to address many Republican priorities. Chief among them: updating voting laws, including I.D. requirements for mail-in ballots and a ban on 24-hour and drive-through voting. Lisa Desjardins speaks to State Representative Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, who led a walkout in May over the state's last voting bill.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Texas legislature gaveled back to order today for a special session to address a laundry list of Republican priorities left undone when lawmakers left Austin in May, chief among them, an update to the state's voting laws.

    Lisa Desjardins has the story.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, Democrats in Texas blocked the last voting bill by walking out of the chamber before a deadline.

    Now Republicans are back with a new version, House Bill 3. It includes I.D. requirements for mail-in ballots and a ban on 24-hour and drive-through voting. But this version drops some previous ideas to limit Sunday voting.

    The debate over voting rights remains hot. Vice President Harris weighed in on the Texas bill today during a speech in Washington today.

  • Vice Pres. Kamala Harris:

    You know what's going on in Texas right now. This all is designed, I believe, to make it harder for you to vote, so that you don't vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But Republicans, including the bill's original sponsor, reject that argument.

    Here's State Senator Bryan Hughes in a recent interview with the "NewsHour":

  • State Sen. Bryan Hughes:

    I hear that generalization, but no one has shown me any evidence of it.

    This bill says that, in those urban counties, that the polling places have to be distributed evenly across the county. Now, that's just straight-up fairness based on where the voters live, regardless of their race, of their party, of their ethnic background, their religion. This is about making the system fair for all voters.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    State Representative Chris Turner is chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus and led the walkout in May that blocked that other voting bill.

    He joins me now.

    Representative Turner, Republicans say they are determined to pass new voting laws. Can you block them this time and how? Our audience likes specifics.

  • State Rep. Chris Turner:

    As you know, Democrats were successful in blocking the same type of voter legislation at the end of our regular session, as you have already told your viewers.

    And what I can tell you is that, today, on the first day of this special session, that Democrats in the House and the Senate here in Texas are more unified than ever, more determined than ever to do all we can to block Republican attempts to make it more difficult to vote in the state of Texas, a state that is already very difficult to vote in, because we already have very restrictive voting laws on the books.

    So, we are going to fight every step of the way. We're going to leave no stone unturned in our mission to defend the rights of our constituents to cast ballots in a free, safe and secure election. And we are going to take it a day at a time. And Republicans can expect a big fight from us on these bills.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, since you walked out, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, has ruled in favor of Republicans and some restrictions they want on voting laws in other states.

    Also, there is more conservative pressure on your Republican governor.

    Could you have opened a Pandora's box here? Could it be that Republicans may be more bold now about voting restrictions and limits?

  • Chris Turner:

    Yes, I think, you are absolutely right that our governor is reacting to his 2022 primary election, where he already has two opponents in the Republican primary.

    And he is just simply in a race to the bottom with not only his primary opponents, but I think other Republican leaders around the country, in trying to appeal to and placate Donald Trump and the Donald Trump base, which essentially now is the Republican Party. And so that's a real factor that we have to contend with, because Republicans control all levers of government in Texas presently.

    But I think that, with respect to the court decision, while that was obviously not a decision anyone of us wanted to see, it is very important for Republicans to remember Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act remains in tact. The court decision did not in any way nullify Section 2, like they did with Section 5 several years ago.

    And so we still have a Constitution in this country. We still have Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. And Republicans in Texas shamefully have a track record of passing laws that have been found by federal courts to be intentionally discriminatory against African American and Hispanic voters in Texas under both the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, whether that's redistricting plans over the last decade, or photo voter I.D. law.

    Greg Abbott's secretary of state two years ago attempted a voter purge that the federal courts had to stop. So, there is a track record in Texas of Republicans violating the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. There is a track record of courts continually defending and pushing back on those Republican attempts. So, they ought to be cautious about what they try to do.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One final question.

    The speaker of the House there in Texas has the power to compel, use state troopers to force members back into the chamber, trying to avoid what you did last time. This is a serious question. Is this issue worth yourself moving to another state or hiding out to avoid that?

  • Chris Turner:

    You are right. The speaker definitely has the power to compel a quorum.

    I think there is different — there's — it is debatable how he can go about doing that or how any speaker can go about doing that. But the speaker does have authority to compel a quorum.

    What I would say is that those discussions, it would be premature right now to speculate. But we're never going to take anything off the table at the same time. And, as I say, it's a 30-day session. It will go quickly. We are going to take it a day at a time and make the best decisions we can day by day.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I didn't hear a no there. It sounds like it's going to be a hot summer there in Texas.

    Representative Chris Turner of the House Democratic Caucus in Texas, thank you for joining us.

  • Chris Turner:

    Thank you for having me.

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