Mineola state senator files bill to make illegal voting a felony, change language related to intent
AUSTIN, Texas (KLTV) - An East Texas state senator wants to make illegal voting a felony, as it was for years before an amendment was made to legislation passed last session. Senate Bill 2, filed by Republican Bryan Hughes of Mineola, would also change the standard related to intent.
“The punishment should fit the crime,” Hughes said. “Voting illegally is a big deal in Texas, and the law should reflect that.”
Before Hughes’ sweeping election law was passed last session, an amendment was made by another lawmaker lowering the penalty for illegal voting to a misdemeanor.
“This is just an attempt to go back and clean that up,” Hughes said. “SB 1 is strong and did a lot of good things in the law. It was a good bill. It wasn’t worth killing the whole bill for this one amendment but we knew we’d have to come back and fix it, and that’s what this is about.”
Critics of the bill take issue with a change in language from SB1 related to intent.
The bill reads in part, “A person commits an offense if the person knowingly or intentionally: (1) votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows of a particular circumstance that makes the person [is] not eligible to vote.”
“Senate Bill 2 would make it much more likely that innocent voters will be prosecuted for good faith mistakes in the election process,” said James Slattery, senior supervising legislative attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Slattery said the bill only requires prosecutors to prove the voter knew of the circumstance that made them ineligible.
“Basically, you would need to be a lawyer to vote in this state,” Slattery said, “Because you would need to go into the voting booth fully understanding all of the nuances of the very complicated Texas Election Code, in order to feel safe to vote.”
Hughes argues that’s not what the bill does.
“That’s completely inaccurate,” Hughes said. “Again, it’s about illegal voting. Felons are not allowed to vote in Texas. People here illegally are not allowed to vote in Texas. That’s pretty straightforward. It doesn’t require a law degree. I think people get that intuitively.”
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