Texas lawmakers are addressing illegal voting with a proposed reversal of a law passed in 2021. Under the new plan, residents who vote illegally will be subject to felony-level punishment, rather than the earlier downgraded misdemeanor. The House of Representatives gained preliminary approval to House Bill 1243, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Cole Hefner from Mount Pleasant, Texas. The bill had an 83-63 vote in favor.
Hefner emphasized the importance of voter confidence and protection of legitimate votes with the new measure. However, some Democrats and voting rights supporters are expressing concerns about the high percentage of Latinx individuals prosecuted for election fraud under the current system. The opponents also question the impact of the new measure on vulnerable communities.
The major difference between the current House and Senate bills is the standard of prosecution for illegal voting. Republican leaders, including Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, insist that restoring felony punishment for illegal voting represents a correction of a mistaken 2021 downgrade that changed illegal voting to a misdemeanor.
The Senate’s version of the bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, modifies the requirement for prosecution of those who knowingly voted illegally. Under the previous law, individuals only illegally voted if they “knowingly or intentionally” vote or attempt to vote in an election they know they are ineligible to vote in. The Senate’s version would include anyone who attempts to vote or votes in an election, knowing of a particular situation that makes them ineligible. These situations could include prior conviction for a felony or not being a US citizen.
The House version passed earlier this week does not make this change, and observers are uncertain how the two chambers will reconcile these differences. Voting rights advocates criticize both versions of the bill, describing the legislative effort as a “gotcha” game that injects fear into the voting process rather than improving its administration with adequate staff, funding for training, and resources.
The divisive debate on Senate Bill 1243 has attracted attention from political analysts and journalists who cover Texas politics. They look forward to observing legislative developments and are keenly interested in the ensuing discussions and decisions that will affect Texas.