After passing out of committee Monday, an election fraud bill that would make the crime easier to prosecute and increase the penalty to 20 years in prison is headed for a vote in the Texas Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has made Senate Bill 2 from Mineola Republican Sen.
Bryan Hughes a top priority, and it was one of the first bills to reach the Senate floor. The bill would make voter fraud a second-degree felony and eliminate the requirement that a defendant is aware that they were committing a crime in order to be convicted.
“These offenses are serious and should be treated as such,” Hughes said at a Senate State Affairs Committee meeting, which he chairs. The bill was approved by seven of the ten members present, with the committee’s three Democratic members voting against it. The bill’s supporters have described it as a common-sense measure that would discourage illegal voting.
Texas Senator Bryan Hughes Tweeted about the situation. You can see the tweet below
Today at 11 am, Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs will convene to hear SB 2, restoring the penalty for illegal voting to a felony, among other bills.
You can watch live here:#txlegehttps://t.co/HHw9mN3jD0
— Senator Bryan Hughes (@SenBryanHughes) February 27, 2023
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Critics argue that it will chill non-white voters and criminalizes simple errors made in ignorance of complicated election law. “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” said Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP, during public testimony.
Election fraud was a felony until 2021 when a provision reducing the severity of the crime was slipped into the omnibus election law Senate Bill 1 during a special session. Republicans appear to have inadvertently approved the bill, which was only condemned after it was approved by both chambers.
Several Republicans in both chambers have introduced legislation to change the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony. SB 2 goes a step further by removing an element of the crime that requires a person to know they committed the crime in order to be convicted.
The section of the bill was written in response to the ongoing legal saga of a Fort Worth woman sentenced to five years in prison for voter fraud for voting in the 2016 presidential election while on parole for a federal felony conviction. Crystal Mason, the woman, appealed her conviction and is currently free while the case proceeds through the appellate courts.
What Did Texas Attorney Said?
However, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in May that prosecutors must show Mason knew she was committing a crime when she cast a provisional ballot in Tarrant County.
“For almost all crimes, ignorance of the law is not a defense” According to a Senate Research Center bill analysis, “Requiring that the prosecution prove a defendant’s personal knowledge of a specific law makes a crime almost impossible to prosecute.” Texas attorney general representative agreed.
“It would be very hard to prove [voter fraud] with circumstantial evidence that a person knew,” said Jonathan White, former attorney general’s election integrity unit chief. The Texas Civil Rights Project’s Emily Eby French called SB 2 an “absurdly low standard” for conviction. Ineligible voters who sign provisional ballot affidavits may unintentionally commit a crime.
“This law is in fact a very wide net that would criminalize a wide variety of innocent behavior,” After French mentioned Mason, Hughes questioned her testimony. The Texas Civil Rights Project is representing Mason in her appeal. Mason signed a provisional ballot affidavit stating she had completed her sentence for federal tax fraud while on parole.
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Felons in Texas cannot vote until they finish their sentence, including parole. Hughes said, “We believe it’s a great example of why we need this bill passed, certainly not a sympathetic case for an honest mistake by someone who didn’t understand complicated election law,”
Mason claims she was unaware of that disqualification when she signed the 2016 presidential election paperwork. She’s before Fort Worth’s Second Court of Appeals. Former federal prosecutors, including former Homeland Security Director Janet A. Napolitano, filed a brief with the court arguing that Mason’s conviction would deter eligible voters from casting provisional ballots.
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