AUSTIN, Texas – A procedural gaffe on Thursday forced the abrupt end of a Texas House hearing on a Republican-backed voting restrictions bill and at least temporarily deprived more than 100 people of the chance to testify about it, including some who said they had driven hundreds of miles to be there.
The sweeping bill, which is part of Republicans’ nationwide campaign to restrict access to the ballot, would impose new limits on mail-in voting and grant more power to partisan poll watchers in the country's second-largest state. During the hearing, Cain said it was meant to “prevent voter fraud,” which is extremely rare.
Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, who chairs the House Elections Committee and who authored the bill, called a premature end to the hearing, explaining that parliamentary rules prevented him from continuing it after he called for a recess without setting a time to return.
“Even though I wish very much to continue today’s hearing, the rules prevent me from doing so. Please forgive me for my error,” said Cain, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump who volunteered after the November election to help Trump’s campaign pursue its baseless voter fraud case.
The bungled end to the hearing stunned an overflow room of people who had waited hours to address lawmakers, including some who said they had traveled for hours to speak against the measure known as House Bill 6. Others found a silver lining, since the mistake temporarily delayed the bill from moving forward.
The gaffe brought renewed attention to the legislation in Texas, which was the largest state to back Trump in the last election and which already has some of the country's toughest voting restrictions. Among those who showed up to testify was Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate, who drove all the way from the border city of El Paso to be there.
Cain, a lawyer, called a recess after the vice chairwoman of the committee, Democratic state Rep. Jessica Gonzalez, tried to allow another Democrat who is not on the committee to ask questions about the bill. That Democrat was state Rep. Nicole Collier, the chairwoman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.
Cain objected to a non-committee member being recognized for questions and called a recess. Less than an hour later, he returned to say he had made a procedural mistake and adjourned the hearing.
“Any delay is good," said Emily Eby, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project who had traveled from Houston for the hearing. But, she said, “I sort of get the feeling that maybe they're trying to drain us dry."
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this report.