Texas Sen. Carol Alvarado Withstands Brutal Overnight Filibuster in Attempt to Stop Voter Suppression Bill

“[President Lyndon B. Johnson] said the Voting Rights Act struck away the last major shackle of the fierce and ancient bond of slavery. Senate Bill 1 is a regressive step back in the direction of that dark and painful history.”

—Texas Sen. Carol Alvarado

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Alvarado hugs a colleague after finishing a 15-hour overnight filibuster in protest of a GOP-led bill that will restrict voting access. (Screenshot from Texas Senate)

Trying to block the infamous GOP-led elections bill at the heart of months of protests, Texas state Sen. Carol Alvarado began her filibuster just before 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday. By Thursday morning, Alvarado was still at it. She finished her speech at 9:00 a.m. CT—marking 15 total hours.

To filibuster a bill is to have an extended discussion of said bill by one person, and it is permitted only in the Senate. The Texas filibuster is particularly brutal: While they speak, senators cannot eat, drink, sit or lean on any surface, or use the bathroom. The senator must be continually speaking and the words discussed must be relevant to the bill.

“As we draw this discussion to an end, it is my sincere hope that civil acts by everyday Texans, from the Senate floor to the ballot box, can help to shed the light on all important issues,” a visibly exhausted Alvarado said Thursday morning. “What do we want our democracy to look like?”

The proposed bill Alvarado stood in protest of would restrict vote-by-mail, eliminate drive-thru and 24-hour voting options, and strengthen protections for partisan poll watchers. Ultimately, her filibuster could only delay Senate Bill 1’s passage, and shortly after she left the floor, the state Senate voted 18–11 in favor.

2021 has been a record-setting year for voting restrictions: As of mid-July, at least 18 states have enacted 30 new laws that hinder voting access. And activists across the nation have been sounding the alarm, arguing these kinds of bills target Black and Brown communities in particular. Notably, Texas has the largest Black population of any state and the most restrictive voting laws in the U.S.

“Senate Bill 1 slowly but surely chips away at our democracy. It adds rather than removes barriers for Texas seniors, persons with disabilities, African Americans, Asian and Latino voters from the political process,” Alvarado said as she began her speech Wednesday. “[President Lyndon B. Johnson] said the Voting Rights Act struck away the last major shackle of the fierce and ancient bond of slavery. Senate Bill 1 is a regressive step back in the direction of that dark and painful history.”

Many hypothesize the real motivation behind the Republican push to limit voting access is the changing demographics of the Lone Star State, where Republicans are losing their grip on the former GOP stronghold. While President Biden ultimately lost the state of Texas to Trump, the 2020 presidential election marked the closest presidential results in the state in 44 years. 

Flashback: Wendy Davis’s 2013 Filibuster

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Wendy Davis of Fort Worth was the last Texas state senator to stage a filibuster.

“I’m rising on the floor today to humbly give voice to thousands of Texans who have been ignored.” And so began Sen. Davis’s epic 13-hour filibuster before the state Senate, taking a stand for reproductive justice to kill restrictive omnibus anti-abortion legislation. (Ms. honored Davis on the cover of its Summer 2013 issue.)

Texas Legislature Withstands Second Special Session

The Texas Legislature is currently in its fifth day of its second special session, but is still crippled without a quorum. (Note: To become a law, a bill has to pass both the House and the Senate, and be signed by the governor; with a handful of Democratic legislators still in Washington, D.C., the Texas House still lacks a quorum to conduct business.)

Texas Democrats are still formulating their next steps for fighting the state-level voting bill, according to Texas state Rep. Donna Howard.

“Texas Democrats are still planning their next moves as I write this,” wrote Howard in an Aug. 6 email to Ms., “but suffice it to say, trust has been severely damaged, and we will keep up the fight for voting rights however best we can.”

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About

Roxy Szal is the digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.