AUSTIN (Nexstar)– Senate Bill 5 unanimously passed out of the State Affairs committee on Sunday, as lawmakers plow through Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20-item special session call.
The committee heard public testimony, where Texans had the chance to offer their opinions to senators.
The bill essentially amends Texas Election Code to increase criminal penalties for voter fraud. Offenders could face prison time if convicted.
The committee approved the bill 9-0 and passed it to the full Senate.
“The mail ballot voting is a prime target for illegal voting and election fraud,” Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, stated as he outlined the bill he authored.
“Often the victims of mail in ballot fraud are the most vulnerable members of our communities,” Hancock added. “The right of every Texas voter to count his or her ballot must be protected.”
“We believe that SB 5 would result in the elderly or those with disabilities, fearing … they might intentionally do something wrong that could lead to imprisonment or a fine or could choose not to vote at all,” Cinde Weatherby with the League of Women Voters of Texas said as she testified against the bill.
Harris County GOP Ballot Security Committee Chair Alan Vera argued for the legislation, saying, “from people assisting voters at a polling place, taking over for the voter and casting the ballot without any direction from the voter, to mail ballot harvesting and the falsification of mail ballot signatures, these violations of Texas election code or real, they do real damage.”
James Dickey, newly-elected chairman of the Texas Republican Party, supported the bill as well.
“We support modifications and the strengthening of election laws to ensure ballot integrity and fair elections. We support increased scrutiny and security in balloting by mail. We support all means of protecting the integrity of our elections,” Dickey said.
A representative from the American Civil Liberties Union presented alternative solutions.
“I’m here to kind of encourage the Senate to think about not just criminal penalties. Are there civil penalties, are there administrative penalties, are there alternatives to turning to our already filled prisons and jails to try to make sure people don’t try to ruin the integrity of our voting?” said Matt Simpson, with ACLU of Texas.