Marathon filibuster by state senator ratchets up Texas voting rights pressure

A Texas state senator continued her filibuster on Thursday morning of an elections bill in the latest tactic to extend the nation’s most visible standoff over voting rights.

Democrat Carol Alvarado began her filibuster shortly before 6pm on Wednesday by speaking indefinitely, although she admitted that was unlikely to stop the bill from passing. She must remain standing and speaking during the filibuster, which entered its 14th hour on Thursday morning.

Alvarado wore running shoes on the Senate floor – much like former legislator Wendy Davis, known for her lengthy filibuster in 2013 of an anti-abortion bill. Alvarado’s filibuster began hours after officers of the Texas house of representatives delivered civil arrest warrants for more than 50 absent Democrats on Wednesday. Frustrated Republicans have ratcheted up efforts to end a standoff over a sweeping elections bill that has continued for 32 days.

But after sergeants-at-arms finished making the rounds inside the Texas capitol – dropping off copies of the warrants at Democrats’ offices, and politely asking staff to tell their bosses to please return – there were few signs the stalemate that began when Democrats fled to Washington DC in July in order to grind the statehouse to a halt was any closer to a resolution.

The latest escalation threw the Texas legislature into uncommon territory with neither side showing any certainty over what comes next, or how far Republicans could take their determination to secure a quorum of 100 present lawmakers – a threshold they were just four members shy of reaching.

“I don’t worry about things I can’t control,” said state representative Erin Zwiener, one of the Democrats who was served with a warrant and has refused to return to the capitol. “Nothing about these warrants are a surprise, and they don’t necessarily affect my plans.”

Democrats, who acknowledge they cannot permanently stop the GOP voting bill from passing because of Republicans’ dominance in both chambers of the Texas legislature, responded to the warrants with new shows of defiance. One turned up in a Houston courtroom and secured a court order aimed at preventing him from being forced to return to the capitol.

The NAACP also stepped in on behalf of the Texas Democrats, urging the justice department to investigate whether a federal crime was being committed when Republicans threatened to have them arrested.

Refusing to attend legislative sessions is a violation of house rules – a civil offense, not a criminal one, leaving the power the warrants carry to get Democrats back to the chamber unclear, even for the Republicans who invoked it. Democrats would not be jailed. Republican Travis Clardy, who helped negotiate an early version of the voting bill that Democrats first stopped with a walkout in May, told ABC News he believed “they can be physically brought back to the capitol”.

The move marks a new effort by Republicans to end the protest over elections legislation that began a month ago with 50 Democrats taking private jets to Washington in a dramatic show of resolve to make Texas the frontline of a new national battle over voting rights.

Republicans are in the midst of their third attempt since May to pass a raft of tweaks and changes to the state’s election code that would make it harder – and even, sometimes, legally riskier – to cast a ballot in Texas, which already has some of the most restrictive election laws in the nation.

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