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Progressive groups unite to oppose Texas GOP's voting restrictions

The new coalition of local and national groups launches as state Republicans are expected to revive a measure fiercely opposed by Democrats and voting rights advocates.
Texas state Capitol building
Posted at 7:32 AM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 08:32:42-04

(NBC News) - More than two dozen progressive groups have united against Texas Republicans' renewed efforts to pass a restrictive voting bill, forming a new coalition days before a special session of the state Legislature is scheduled to begin.

Texas for All, as the coalition is known, launched Monday with 35 national and Texas-based groups on board that traditionally focus on issues including civil liberties, immigration, child welfare, the environment and abortion rights. Organizers told NBC News that more groups may join.

“This is a fight that has been shaping up for over a decade. We’ve seen how state leadership has decimated our communities. When you look at the grid, we survived a pandemic,” Sissi Yado, who is steering the coalition, said, referring to Texas' isolated power grid and the deadly crisis that ensued when it was crippled by a February storm. “We know we need to be in lockstep as we face another special session.”

In a letter to supporters released Monday, the member groups said they came together because they believe Republican lawmakers are pushing what would be one of the nation's strictest voting laws in order "to preserve the entrenched political leadership of Texas by insulating themselves from the will of the people at the ballot box."

"Texas' statewide leaders and legislative majority prove time and again how all of our rights are undermined by their voter suppression efforts," the coalition wrote.

Five groups at the core of the coalition have worked together in the past: Texas Freedom Network, Workers Defense Action Fund, Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. The Texas Democratic Party, Texas AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and Black Voters Matter Fund are also taking part.

The hope is to mobilize a combined membership base of millionsfor the special session of the Texas Legislature that begins on July 8, where GOP-backed voting legislation is expected to come up.The coalition anticipates spending seven figures on digital ads and other lobbying efforts against proposed election limits throughout the session, according to a person familiar with the coalition's plans who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the effort.

The voting rights fight will be Texas for All's first as a group, but expect it to work together as a unit at least through the 2022 midterms, this person said.

“The central tenet of organizing is our power is in numbers,” said Brianna Brown, deputy director of the Texas Organizing Project. “There’s strength in numbers.”

Members of Texas for All said it represented an usually large coalition, in part because protecting voting access is key to their respective agendas.

“Voting rights is an incredible unifier because it affects all of our communities, it affects representation at its core and our fundamental way to hold our electeds accountable,” Texas Freedom Network Executive Director Val Benavidez said.

Texas is one of dozens of states that considered or passed voting restrictions this year as former President Donald Trump continues to promote the lie that a second term was stolen from him through widespread voter fraud that his legal team could not prove in court. There is no evidence of such fraud or irregularities in the 2020 election, won by President Joe Biden, and the highly-scrutinized results have been certified accurate. Trump won the state of Texas.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, a Trump ally, made voting legislation a priority, and state Republicans ultimately advanced a sweeping bill known as S.B. 7 that would ban drive-thru voting, limit voting hours, make it more difficult to cast mail ballots and empower partisan poll watchers. Proponents of the legislation argued it would improve the state's election systems and prevent fraud.Democrats, who are in the minority in both chambers of the Legislature, criticized the proposed legislation as voter suppression. State House Democrats managed to kill the bill at the eleventh hour last month by walking out en masse and denying Republicans a quorum necessary to pass the bill before the regular legislative session ended.

Knowing their victory would be short-lived — Abbott immediately made it clear election legislation would come up in a special session — more than two dozen Texas Democrats went to Washington to lobby senators in favor of the For the People Act, a federal election bill that voting rights advocates have said is the only hope of kneecapping restrictions imposed by Republican-led states. No Republicans support the legislation, andSenate Republicans filibustered debate on an amended version of it last week, putting national Democrats in a predicament about how to move forward on a high-priority issue.

It's unclear whether Texas Republicans will write a different elections bill during the special session or reuse S.B. 7, written during the last session. Democratic lawmakers don’t have the votes to block legislation along party lines, but have vowed to use every tool at their disposal to fight the legislation nonetheless.

Members of the Texas for All coalition say they're determined to support the Democrats opposing voting legislation with a unified message, coordinating their political strategy and communications and orchestrating days of action.

“Some organizations will be able to do advocacy and organizing, some organizations will run voter registration campaigns, some organizations will work on get out the vote work," while some groups will back potential challengers to Republicans in upcoming elections, Benavidez said.

Coalition memberssaid that the legislative process — particularly in a special session — can be hard to follow, and that the coalition will help keep voters apprised of the process.

“Special sessions can be inside baseball and they can be very insular," Brown said. "We want to make sure what’s going on in the state legislature is amplified."