House approves Senate’s mail-in ballot fraud bill


Highlights

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

Hutto Economic Development Corporation under criminal investigation
Hutto Economic Development Corporation under criminal investigation

The Hutto city manager announced Thursday night at a City Council meeting that the former Hutto Economic Development Corporation is under criminal investigation. It was immediately unclear what the subject of the investigation is, but the revelation came several minutes after Mayor Pro Tem Tom Hines had said that the EDC — against the wishes...
AUSTIN POLICE CONTRACT: Deadline passing as civic groups wade in
AUSTIN POLICE CONTRACT: Deadline passing as civic groups wade in

Months-long negotiations between Austin police and city officials reached a heightened pitch Thursday as both sides brushed against a deadline to develop a proposed employment agreement. The stakes were being raised on multiple fronts: Community and political groups, including some leaders of the Travis County Democratic party, were opposing any possible...
‘Horns up’ in the Children’s Hospital
‘Horns up’ in the Children’s Hospital

University of Texas football players Tim Yoder, Michael Wilson and Kendall Moore get their “horns up” with future Longhorn Dylan Martinez at St. David’s Children’s Hospital. The football players visited sick children and their families to lift their spirits.
Poll: 49% of Texans disapprove of Trump, but GOP support strong
Poll: 49% of Texans disapprove of Trump, but GOP support strong

Nearly half of Texans disapprove of Donald Trump’s performance as president, but Republicans overwhelmingly support him, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Thursday. Among Republicans, 79 percent said they approved of Trump’s performance, while 15 percent disapprove. The rest of the GOP respondents said they...
DPS: Driver, 18, dies in crash after police chase near Granite Shoals

BURNET COUNTY Police chase ends with fatal crash A police chase ended with the death of an 18-year-old driver near Granite Shoals early Thursday, authorities said. According to a Texas Department of Public Safety statement, a preliminary investigation found that Cruz Grimaldo Suarez was fleeing from police around 3:30 a.m. in Burnet County. He was...
More Stories