For 15 hours overnight Wednesday into Thursday, Texas state Sen. Carol Alvarado stood and talked on the Senate floor. She could not break for a drink of water. She couldn’t sit. She couldn’t even lean against her desk. For 15 hours, she stood in the senate chamber in the Austin statehouse and fought Senate Bill 1, a voter restrictions bill that is the companion to the one that Texas House Democrats have blocked by leaving the state, denying the body a quorum.
“Senate Bill 1 slowly but surely chips away at our democracy,” Alvarado began in her filibuster. “It adds rather than removes barriers for Texas seniors, persons with disabilities, African Americans, Asian and Latino voters from the political process,” she continued. “[President Lyndon B. Johnson] said the Voting Rights Act struck away the last major shackle of the fierce and ancient bond of slavery. Senate Bill 1 is a regressive step back in the direction of that dark and painful history.” Alvarado knew that she could not stop the bill, but was compelled to use her time to “put the breaks on” it passing and to draw attention to its regressive provisions.
She was assisted by her Democratic colleagues through the night, who at least gave her a break from nonstop talking by asking her detailed questions, allowing for an excruciating explanation of all the ways in which this legislation will disenfranchise Texas citizens. Things like outlawing local voting options, including 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting efforts that Alvarado’s Harris County provides. It would allow “poll watchers” more ability to harass and intimidate voters inside polling locations, and would not just restrict people from assisting voters—including people with disabilities—but set up possible criminal penalties for providing that assistance.
“As we draw this discussion to an end, it is my sincere hope that civil acts by everyday Texans, from the Senate floor to the ballot box, can help to shed the light on all important issues,” Alvarado said Thursday morning when winding down her speech. “What do we want our democracy to look like?”
Ahead of the filibuster, she told The Texas Tribune that she would “use every tool in the toolbox” and to keep going “as long as I have the energy.”
“I’m using what I have at my disposal in the Senate,” Alvarado told the paper. “The filibuster isn’t going to stop it, but a filibuster is also used to put the brakes on an issue—to call attention to what is at stake—and that is what I am doing.” She’s also shaming national Democratic lawmakers who continue to make a lot of noise about protecting voting rights and restoring democracy, but aren’t actually doing much.
Take Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has been saying “everything is on the table” since at least March, but so far that has been asking Republicans for permission to bring the For the People Act to the floor and then leaving for recess for the rest of the summer.
As of this week, states are starting the process of redistricting, which means redrawing congressional districts based on census data. Allowed to proceed unchecked, Republicans are going to assure that Democrats don’t hold a House majority again for the foreseeable future. Republican states are rewriting the rules not just of voting but of vote-counting to make sure Democrats can’t keep the Senate or the White House.
That’s 18 states enacting at least 30 laws to restrict the vote in 2021 alone. All told, more than 400 voter suppression bills have been introduced in 49 of our 50 states.
U.S. Senate Democrats aren’t even standing on the floor of their chamber for 15 hours at a stretch to talk about voting rights. They’re not using this recess to go to Texas to back up those state Democrats. They’re treating this as business as usual, still operating on the assumption that passing good legislation is good enough. The legislation they have passed—the American Rescue Plan—and are planning to pass—the Build Back Better plan—are great. But if all the people who are helped by those plans aren’t able to cast an appreciative vote, they’re the last good stuff that will happen here.
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