Because of the outbreak, meetings and conferences that would have taken place in person are now on screens. Plans for at least the next week have been frozen.
The Fight Over Voting Rights
After former President Donald J. Trump returned in recent months to making false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states have marched ahead to pass laws that make it harder to vote and that change how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.
- A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become central issues in American politics. As of June 21, lawmakers had passed 28 new laws in 17 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute.
- The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
- More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking rules concerning the Electoral College and judicial elections, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
- Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate, including from Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would most likely face steep legal challenges.
- Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Texas: Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s expansive voting bill, known as S.B. 7, in a late-night walkout and are starting a major statewide registration program focused on racially diverse communities. But Republicans in the state have pledged to return in a special session and pass a similar voting bill. S.B. 7 included new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.
- Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. And Iowa has imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day.
“Everybody is scrambling because the realization is hitting that this new strain is among us and is very contagious even among people who are vaccinated,” Gina Hinojosa, a state representative from Austin, said.
On Tuesday morning, the delegation met over a video call with Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat. Mr. Clyburn, Ms. Hinojosa said, remains optimistic that the Senate can pass a federal voting rights overhaul before early August, when the current special session of the Texas Legislature will expire. (Mr. Abbott has promised to call a new one if Democrats do not return by Aug. 6, when the session ends.)
Mr. Clyburn encouraged the Texans, they said, to push to have a key measure in the proposed John Lewis Voting Rights Act — the Justice Department’s preclearance requirements, under which a number of states mostly in the South had to receive federal approval before changing voting laws — transferred to the more comprehensive For the People Act, which passed the House and remains stalled in the Senate.
A representative for Mr. Clyburn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Later on Tuesday, the Texas Democratic delegation, whose members are now undergoing daily virus tests, hosted a virtual news conference, reiterating the long history of civil rights and voting rights battles and reaffirming their commitment to push Congress and the White House to pass federal voting legislation.
But the members were confined to pixelated Zoom boxes, and some of them simply had avatars appear when they spoke, or black boxes with their names half obscured.
“We have a very robust agenda in terms of continued outreach to members of Congress,” said State Representative Ron Reynolds, who represents the Houston area. “We’re still working diligently through the Covid protocols that we’ve already set in place.”