Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to date with Texas’ most essential news.
Reversing their own action from less than two months ago, Republicans in the Texas Senate on Tuesday proposed legislation to increase criminal penalties for illegal voting. And in the search for a way to examine the outcome of the 2020 election, they also proposed a bill that would pave the way for party officials to trigger county audits.
Both measures reflect the determination of the Texas GOP to continue efforts to tighten the state’s election laws, despite the absence of any evidence of fraud or widespread irregularities. And despite the Senate’s efforts, both measures could stall after emptying the chamber.
House Speaker Dade Phelan has indicated he is not interested in taking harsher penalties for illegal voting. Audit legislation, meanwhile, is not on the agenda that Governor Greg Abbott has set for the current Special Legislative Session, raising questions as to whether it will also be proposed to the House. Bedroom.
By approving Senate Bill 10 on a party line vote, Republican senators have reverted to the radical voting bill they have championed in recent months to further restrict the state’s voting process and restrict local control of elections. The bill contained a little-noticed House change that reduced the penalty for illegal voting from a second degree felony to a class A misdemeanor. Abbott signed off on the bill, Senate Bill 1, he less than a month ago, but last week ordered lawmakers to back down.
A second-degree felony in Texas carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, while class A misdemeanors carry a sentence of up to one year in prison, but can be resolved by a fine.
“This [House] the amendment came late in the process, and now that the smoke has cleared and everyone has had time to look at all the detailsâ¦ this will keep the status quo going, âState Senator Bryan said Hughes, the Republican from Mineola who drafted both penalty change and the original legislation.
The change was made during regular House debate and left in place after Republicans in both chambers negotiated – and approved – the final version of the bill, including the lower penalty.
Phelan does not seem to agree with reinstating the previous sanction for illegal voting. Shortly after Abbott added the penalty to the agenda, the speaker said in a post on Twitter that âthis is not the time to questionâ the changes contained in SB 1.
He previously told the Houston Chronicle that the sanction change was in line with the legislature’s “holistic approach to advancing electoral integrity” which struck “the appropriate balance between access to ballots and responsibility”.
Senate Republicans also revisited previous legislation by advancing Senate Bill 47 to give all state or county party officials the ability to trigger mandatory reviews of the 2020 election. The legislation is in process. much of a copy of a hastily disputed bill that the Senate passed at the end of the last special legislative session. He never made it to the House because both Houses ended the session on the same day.
The renewed movement on the audit bill comes as former President Donald Trump presses Abbott and Texas Republicans to resume his crusade, casting unfounded doubts over the election outcome that he lost almost a year ago. Trump specifically urged Abbott to move forward with audit legislation, resuming public lobbying even after the state announced a “full forensic audit” of four counties after Trump’s first request for legislation which would allow for an examination of the ballots by mail and in person. across the state.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, and fraudulent votes generally remain rare in the state.
The Secretary of State’s reviews would result in a more limited assessment of the 2020 election. They are limited to four counties, cover post-election procedures that counties are already required to conduct, and would largely involve a review of records that counties are already required to hold.
In contrast, audit legislation would allow state or county party chairmen to demand a review of the 2020 election simply by submitting a written request to a county clerk. This would include a review of the actual ballots voted in the election.
“What I think we need to do is ask questions and get answers,” said State Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who drafted the legislation. âThis is really what the bill does. If you ask questions and get answers, then you improve everyone’s confidence in the integrity of the electoral system and voters lists.
Voting rights advocates fear the legislation will open the door to politically motivated audits. In the Senate, Democrats pushed back the legislation, questioning the costs counties would incur to foot the bill for reviews and the lack of standards governing the role of the secretary of state in continuing audits under the bill.
In future elections, a second part of the bill would allow candidates, county party presidents, polling station presidents or heads of political action committees who have taken a position on a polling measure to ask for votes. audits if they suspect irregularities.
This process would begin with a written request to the county clerk for an âexplanation and supporting documentsâ for the alleged irregularities or violations of the electoral code. If the person requesting the review is not “satisfied” with the answer, they can ask for “further explanation”. If they are still unhappy, they could approach the Texas Secretary of State to request an audit of the matter.
If the Secretary of State determines that the county’s explanations are inadequate, he must immediately begin an audit of the matter at the county’s expense.
A similar audit bill tabled in the House last month has remained intact.
Disclosure: The Texas Secretary of State has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.