The Texas House gave final approval to a bill Thursday that would increase penalties for mail-in ballot fraud, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20 priorities for the 30-day special legislative session.
The chamber debated Senate Bill 5 for more than three hours Wednesday but quickly passed the measure 92-39 on Thursday. The bill, 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.
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. Abbott signed the bill into law in June, setting it to take effect on Sept. 1.
House Democrats argued Wednesday that 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.
The bill next goes to the Senate, which can approve it as amended, or assign members to hash out differences with House members, before sending it to Abbott’s desk.