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Texas Democrats to spotlight national voting rights with week of events

Guest speakers include labor leader Dolores Huerta and four secretaries of state from around the country.

The Texas Democrats who fled the state last week to block voting restrictions plan a week of events with national advocates and labor leaders, election officials and other Democrats as they seek to keep the pressure on Congress to pass federal voting legislation.

The legislators will take part in a five-day conference starting Monday that will bring guest speakers and other lawmakers to work with the Texas coalition. Service Employees International Union Texas and Mi Familia Vota, a national civic engagement group, are hosting the event.

Guest speakers include labor leader Dolores Huerta, four secretaries of state from around the country and legislators from other states where Republicans have advanced voting restrictions.

Organizers said the event will be educational for participants while highlighting the need for Congress to pass federal voting legislation, including the For the People Act, Democrats' sweeping election overhaul bill, which Republicans have blocked thanks to filibuster rules that prevent legislation from passing without 60 votes in the Senate.

Texas state Rep. Carl Sherman speaks during a "Good Trouble Candlelight Vigil for Democracy" at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington on Saturday.Alex Wong / Getty Images

"Once there's a little sunshine on this issue, I think there's nobody in America that would disagree that voting rights are more important than Senate rules," said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat from San Antonio.

After three of the Texas legislators in Washington tested positive for Covid-19, the event was adapted to be more virtual; the state Democrats will participate as a group from an event space in their hotel while the majority of the speakers join virtually.

"We didn't want to wait or postpone the conference given everything going on right now. All eyes are on this issue, because of what the state legislators have done," SEIU Texas President Elsa Caballero said. "The climate is just right for us to continue to put that extra light and pressure on to get something done."

More than 50 Democrats from the Texas House flew from Austin to Washington last Monday to break quorum and block voting restrictions from being passed by the Legislature's Republican majority. To prevent quorum from being restored, at least 51 House members will need to stay out of state through the expiration of the special legislative session on Aug. 7 or they can be arrested and taken back to the state Capitol.

Huerta will speak Monday, and other advocates will address the group Tuesday, including Cliff Albright of the Voters Matter Fund. On Wednesday, Texas legislators will meet with legislators from Colorado and Nevada about election administration and best practices. The county clerk in Denver, Paul López, will speak about the city's well-regarded mail election system.

Thursday will feature top election officials from four states: Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill.

On Friday, the group will connect with Democratic legislators from Arizona, Florida and Georgia, where Republicans were able to enact significant restrictions.

"With this conference, we will help prepare our voting rights champions for the fight ahead," Héctor Sánchez Barba, CEO of Mi Familia Vota, said in a statement. "We will show them they aren't alone in defending our democracy and fighting for us all."