Texas capitol

AUSTIN — The Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would implement stricter punishments for those who commit voter fraud. It now moves to the Texas House.

Senate Bill 2 would return the state to an earlier law that increases the criminal penalty of voting violations from a Class A misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.

A second-degree felony is punishable by two to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000, per the Texas penal code.

The bill also would establish conditions under which a person could be charged with illegal voting, including when a person votes or attempts to vote knowing they are ineligible.

“We want to make sure that the law is clear on what the legal state of mind is required to be, and the penalty is restored to the felony,” said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican and author of the bill.

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick named restoring voter fraud to a felony a top priority this legislative session, just behind the priority of passing the state budget – the only constitutional requirement of the Texas Legislature every two years. The vote passed along party lines 19-12.

"Senate Bill 2 deters these bad actors and will give Texans peace of mind that election security is dramatically improved," Patrick said in a statement. "People who wish to subvert our elections must know that committing voter fraud comes with a steep penalty; a misdemeanor is simply too weak."

Opponents of the bill say they fear it will criminalize those who make honest mistakes, adding that there continues to be no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Katya Ehresman, voting rights manager for Common Cause Texas, said she believes this bill “stands to accomplish one thing: scaring eligible voters from exercising their constitutional right to vote.”

 "Our right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, and no eligible voter should face felony prosecution for trying to participate in our democracy,” Ehresman said. “But our elected officials in the Texas Senate, doubling down on the harmful laws they have passed previously, have added the threat of prison time to discourage voters from seeking change at the ballot box.”

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