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In Protest Of GOP's Voting Restrictions, Texas Democrats Leave The State

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

And yesterday, Vice President Harris met with Texas Democrats who are in Washington, D.C., trying to block a voting bill in their state.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Texas is a key battleground because the Republican-led legislature is beginning a special session to try to pass their voting legislation. Democrats strategically departed the state to deny Republicans a quorum. They denied Republicans a quorum once before. We're joined once again by Republican state Representative Travis Clardy, who is in Austin. Representative Clardy, welcome back.

TRAVIS CLARDY: Good morning, Steve. Great to be here.

INSKEEP: Is it lonely there?

CLARDY: (Laughter) It's a little lonely. Of course, it's always lonely at 5 in the morning.

INSKEEP: But even more so, I suppose, because Democrats are not in Austin. I want to note this voting bill that you would like to proceed on - the Democrats are blocking you on. The bill has changed since we last talked. An earlier version of this bill made it easier for a judge to overturn an election result even with no evidence of fraud. You told us that was a mistake. It shouldn't be in there. Now you're reconsidering the bill. Is it in there?

CLARDY: No, it's not. And I think I told you then you'll see the proof will be in the pudding, and now the proof is in the pudding. You look at the bill we laid out at the start of our special session - I think we're about five days in of a 30-day session - and those two issues that had come up the, souls to the polls and the issue about election contest, both were acknowledged back then. I think we talked about it at some length. And they've both been addressed. So, again, I think we have a very good bill. It's a well-reasoned bill. It hits some issues that are important for election integrity. And we did what I said we would do and gratified to say we did it. My colleagues were here when we laid the bill out in the special session at our select committee hearing. But unfortunately, they've gone north to D.C. I know it's a Texas summer, but it's not that hot yet. So hopefully they'll come home, and we'll get back to work.

INSKEEP: Well, you mentioned souls to the polls. There was a Sunday voting restriction, which you also got out of there. So the bill is modified. But let's note - it still limits voting hours compared to what was available in the last election. It raises the ID requirements. And I mean, it's just science. Some legitimate voters will miss a chance to vote in an increasingly politically divided state. Are you prepared to say that there's no Texas Republican, none of your colleagues, who think that they're trying to change election outcomes here?

CLARDY: Oh, I don't think there's any of the Texas Republicans that feel we're doing anything other than to make it easier for people to vote in Texas. That's really the - it's the thrust of this. We want people to vote in Texas. We're proud of the fact that we nearly by 50% increased the number of folks who voted in a presidential election in '20 versus '16 from 8 million to 12 million people.

INSKEEP: Representative Clardy, forgive me. A lot of people did vote in Texas in 2020. But how can you say you're making it easier when you're limiting voting hours, limiting overnight voting, limiting the availability of drive-through voting, raising ID requirements? I mean, you can say that you're doing a good thing. You can say you're doing ballot security. But how can you say you're making it easier for people to vote?

CLARDY: No, I think we are making it easier for people to vote. But we're also making it uniform and consistent across the state. There were steps taken that, again, let's do recall, this was done during the COVID crisis. People were making decisions. Governor Abbott extended by an extra week by executive order the ability to vote early. And so the clerk, particularly in Harris County, took some actions.

But it's important that we have consistent rules across the state. But there's not a single person in the last election who came forward who's ever testified, said I never had the chance to vote in Texas. Everybody wants to vote can vote. But it's also important that we have consistency across the state. It's a very diverse state. But the measures we put in place make sure that the ballots are cast are cast by the people casting their ballot. We owe it to every citizen of Texas to where their ballot is protected, and they know when they vote, their vote matters just as much as everybody else's - no more, no less.

INSKEEP: But you know that there are some people on the margins, people who don't have the kind of ID that you want necessarily, even though they may be a perfectly legitimate voter, people who work odd hours, people who have difficult family situations - it's going to be harder for some people to vote. Is that not correct?

CLARDY: I just disagree with that assessment. Again, nobody came forward and said they couldn't vote. I know that we - you know, we put in a measure for mail-in ballots. If there's was an area where there's opportunity for mischief and for fraud - if there's one place - and this is as a person who first ran for office less than 10 years ago - it was clear to me that the opportunities to have mischief primarily come out of the mail-in ballots. And so we've added a measure for the application to register to vote that you provide either the last four of a Social Security number or your Texas driver's license or your other personal identification, all of which everyone has. Before when your ballot is cast, it's not required...

INSKEEP: I just got - I'm so sorry.

CLARDY: It's not required when you cast your vote to - you're allowed to provide that. You can provide that. And it creates the presumption that your ballot will be counted as it should be. We want every ballot to cast. And frankly, Steve...

(CROSSTALK)

INSKEEP: Just a few - we've just got a few seconds. I'm sorry, Representative Clardy, you've been great to us. I appreciate it. We just got a few seconds.

CLARDY: Oh, sure.

INSKEEP: You said that the main concern was mail-in ballots. Mail-in ballots have been used securely for years and were once again in 2020.

CLARDY: Exactly. And that's where I think the national narrative's kind of gone off track. We had a strong election in Texas. Our job is to make sure they continue to be strong, that we look at the areas where we think the system's weak and we take steps to correct it and improve it. We always want to have fair elections. We want everybody that's eligible to be able to vote.

INSKEEP: Representative Clardy, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for taking the questions. I really appreciate it.

CLARDY: Thank you, Steve. Look forward to talking to you soon.

INSKEEP: The Texas state Republican Representative Travis Clardy is in Austin, where he is participating in a special session which Democrats have left to deny Republicans a quorum to conduct business.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "RETURN TO TEXT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.