Texas Democrats late Sunday headed off passage — at least for now — of one of the most restrictive voting bills in the country, a 67-page measure with a slew of provisions that would have made it harder to cast ballots by mail, given new access to partisan poll watchers and imposed stiff new civil and criminal penalties on election administrators, voters and those who seek to assist them.

While Senate Bill 7 would have had wide-ranging effects on voters across the state, it included specific language that critics say would disproportionately affect people of color — particularly those who live in under-resourced and urban communities.

House Democrats blocked the bill by walking out of their chamber Sunday night, but Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has said he plans to add the bill to a special session he plans to call later this year.

Republican backers of the measure have denied that it is aimed at disenfranchising voters of color. During debate in the House earlier this month, state Rep. Briscoe Cain dubbed it a voting “enhancement” bill, insisting that it was designed to protect “all voters.”

The legislation was pushed through in the final hours of the Texas legislative session by Republicans who argued it is necessary to reassure voters their elections are secure, a response to former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 White House race was corrupted by fraud.

But by all accounts, the 2020 election ran smoothly — and no evidence has emerged of fraud or other irregularities in sizable enough quantities to alter an outcome in Texas or other states.

What to know

  • The bill targeted voting methods that Black and Latino voters in Houston used widely in the pandemic.
  • The bill would have barred Sunday morning get-out-the-vote programs used to mobilize Black churchgoers.
  • The measure drew comparison to Jim Crow laws.
  • Would Senate Bill 7 have been unconstitutional?