House approves Senate’s mail-in ballot fraud bill


Under the bill, an offender could face up to 10 years in prison in some fraud cases.

The House is scheduled to take a final vote on the measure Thursday.

After more than three hours of debate Wednesday, the Texas House voted 90-37 to tentatively approve a Senate bill that would increase penalties for mail-in ballot fraud. The House is scheduled to take a final vote on the measure Thursday.

Senate Bill 5, by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, would require a signature verification process for early ballots, notification of rejected ones within a month after an election and a process for correcting errors. Punishment for committing mail-in voter fraud in some cases could carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Hancock and bill supporters have said the bill would protect the most vulnerable voters: seniors and people with disabilities.

But some House Democrats said SB 5 focuses more on penalties than solutions to fraud, and that a special session isn’t enough time to draft sound legislation. Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, called SB 5 “sloppy” and argued for a more robust conversation before moving forward on voter fraud legislation.

READ: Gov. Abbott predicts special session will create a ‘far better’ Texas

“The system needs to be reformed to make the commission of the crime impossible or more difficult to commit in the first place, not enhancing the penalty,” Johnson said.

Johnson offered an amendment that would have essentially killed SB 5. The chamber voted it down, a fate shared by all but one amendment offered by Democrats.

The House approved changes to the bill that would prohibit electronic signatures on mail-in ballot applications and repeal House Bill 658 — passed during the regular session earlier this year — which gives voting priority to people with mobility issues and makes it easier for people in residential care facilities to vote by bringing ballots and an election official to their location — if at least five voters living there request a ballot. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in June, setting it to take effect on Sept. 1.

Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who is carrying SB 5 in the House, said HB 658 is an unfunded mandate to nursing homes and similar facilities and that it would be difficult for some counties to make the accommodations for seniors and people with disabilities.

FIRST READING: This is the way the special session ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

Under SB 5, a person could face jail time if they try to influence a vote “in the presence of the ballot or during the voting process,” a part of the bill that has drawn the most criticism from Democrats and other opponents of the bill. They argue that specific language could land people in legal jeopardy if they discuss a candidate’s qualifications to a loved one while the ballot is present. Goldman said the premise is “unrealistic,” and that the bill targets people harvesting mail-in ballots and who “knowingly and willingly” committing fraud.

“I don’t think any other family member is going to turn in their aunt or their uncle, their dad, their mother or their brother for committing fraud, if they’re sitting around the kitchen table and a ballot happens to be there, and they talk about how their going to vote,” Goldman said.

Reducing mail-in ballot fraud is one of Abbott’s 20 special session items. As lawmakers look for a solution, Dallas County is prosecuting a mail-ballot fraud case in which 700 ballots were marked as suspicious.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Jacksonville officer in critical condition after shooting 
Jacksonville officer in critical condition after shooting 

One Florida officer is in critical condition and another is stable after being shot Friday, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said. The officers were responding to an attempted suicide call, Sheriff’s Office Director Mike Bruno said. The suspect was shot by police and later died, deputies said. The injured officers were taken to UF Health...
Central Florida police officer shot and killed, another gravely wounded
Central Florida police officer shot and killed, another gravely wounded

One central Florida police officer was shot and killed Friday night and one is in grave condition, Kissimmee Police Chief Jeffrey O’Dell said. O’Dell said that Officer Matthew Baxter was killed and Sgt. Sam Howard was shot and is in grave condition. The uniformed officers were responding to a call at 9:30 p.m. in Kissimmee. It appears that...
Georgetown’s new bus service launches Monday
Georgetown’s new bus service launches Monday

Hop on board. Georgetown’s new bus service with four fixed routes across the city starts at 7 a.m. Monday. The 16-passenger buses, operated by the Capital Area Rural Transportation System, are free for the first two weeks. They will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. There is no bus service...
After Charlottesville, Austin’s Confederate monuments get a second look
After Charlottesville, Austin’s Confederate monuments get a second look

After a rally by white supremacists fighting removal of a Confederate monument turned deadly in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, the response in Austin came swiftly. Austin City Council members immediately began paperwork to rename Robert E. Lee Road, near Zilker Park, and Jeff Davis Avenue, near Allandale. At the Capitol, state Rep. Eric Johnson...
Where to watch the solar eclipse in Central Texas

Want to get in on the solar eclipse frenzy? If you haven’t made your Eclipse Day plans yet, there are tons of events in the Central Texas area for family-friendly, astronomical fun. Here is a collection of places to go and things to do on Monday, Aug. 21: AUSTIN Balcones Park Viewing Party, 1:10 p.m., 12017 Amherst Drive, Austin: Join neighbors...
More Stories