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In Texas, Democrats And Voting Groups Aim For Federal Voting Protections

NOEL KING, HOST:

Republican lawmakers in Texas plan to try again to pass new restrictions on voting. A few weeks ago, their Democratic colleagues walked out of the state Capitol to block a bill. But stopping this upcoming effort could be harder. So voting groups and Democrats in Texas have set their sights on federal voting protections. Here's Ashley Lopez from member station KUT in Austin.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Lorna Ramsey recently attended a voting rights rally in Austin. This is an issue that Ramsey says she cares a lot about. She says she remembers the day in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an important part of the Voting Rights Act.

LORNA RAMSEY: When I heard that, I mean, I chilled. I got a chill.

LOPEZ: Justices struck down a provision that required Texas and some other states with a history of racial discrimination to clear voting laws with the federal government. Ramsey is a Black woman, and she's lived in Texas and in the South for a long time. And she says these provisions are still needed today.

RAMSEY: I know about the racism. And I know about the voter suppression that's in the area. And I didn't think that we had moved that far. And I thought without clearance, you know, the floodgates were going to open.

LOPEZ: Since that ruling, Republican lawmakers in Texas have passed a slew of bills that add more restrictions to voting. They also reinstated a strict voter ID law that had been struck down. But after the 2020 election, Republican leadership said elections in Texas were still not secure enough. A few months ago, Texas's lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, told reporters more safeguards were necessary.

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DAN PATRICK: People in America have lost faith in their elections, in the outcome. And we have to resolve that issue in this country and in the state.

LOPEZ: Even though there was no evidence of election security issues in Texas during last year's elections, Republicans still filed sweeping legislation that would create a host of new criminal penalties related to voting. And behind closed doors, Republicans added some last-minute provisions that would limit voting on Sundays and make it easier to overturn elections following allegations of voter fraud.

JESSICA GONZALEZ: I mean, this is nothing new. Only we just have not seen a bill like this that's so egregious.

LOPEZ: That's Democratic State Representative Jessica Gonzalez of Dallas. She says those last-minute provisions were sprung on Democrats. That's why they eventually walked out of the Capitol right before a final vote. And while the bill is dead for now, Texas's Republican governor has already called the legislature back to pass a voting bill. Gonzalez says she hopes Republicans will include Democrats in the process more this time and rethink some of the more controversial measures.

GONZALEZ: But overall, I don't expect that it's going to change too much.

LOPEZ: And this is why Texas Democrats have been setting their sights lately on getting Congress to pass federal protections for voters. Former Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke has been touring the state, holding rallies and telling Texans that part of the solution to the state's voting restrictions lies in Congress.

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BETO O'ROURKE: There is a federal answer to what ails us at this moment. And it's called the For the People Act.

LOPEZ: Recently, a group of Texas Democrats visited Washington to make the case to key lawmakers that a federal law would be a lifeline for Texas voters. O'Rourke and others also want legislation that would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act. Lorna says she wants Congress to intervene.

RAMSEY: It's shameless what's happening. So it's imperative that the federal government step in and does something.

LOPEZ: But that lifeline is looking unlikely. Last week, Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a federal voting overhaul, and Texas lawmakers will reconvene next week. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin.

(SOUNDBITE OF YONDERLING'S "WHISPER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.