87th LegislatureState HouseState SenateTexas Senate Plows Ahead With Restoring Stronger Illegal Voting Penalties, House Punts

The Senate is moving forward with restoring harsher penalties for illegal voting but the measure is opposed by Speaker Phelan.
October 4, 2021
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The Texas Senate has not wasted time acting on Gov. Greg Abbott’s addition to the special session’s agenda last week that called for legislation to increase penalties for illegal voting after they were reduced under the election reform bill signed in September.

Shortly after Abbott added the item, Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) filed Senate Bill (SB) 9 to return the penalty to illegal voting to what it had been. On Monday, the Senate State Affairs Committee that Hughes chairs heard public testimony on the bill.

Like the Texas Republicans’ hotly contested election integrity bill, SB 1, positions on the bill are generally polarized along partisan lines.

Alan Vera, ​​the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee, supported many of the reforms in SB 1 and likewise testified in favor of SB 9 on Monday morning.

“We believe the primary purpose of criminal penalties for serious violation of the [Texas Election Code] is as a deterrent,” said Vera. “Those considering or planning serious violations of the code may be less likely to actually commit the offenses if they know there is a serious penalty attached to the violation they are considering.”

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Conversely, James Slattery, an attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project, appeared at the hearing in opposition to the measure.

“It is richly ironic that during the debate on SB 1 that supporters of SB 1 routinely accused the opponents of SB 1 of not having read the bill, [. . .] yet some of those same supporters of SB 1 claim to now be surprised to learn that it contained provisions reducing some criminal penalties related to voting,” said Slattery.

At the rate the Senate has pushed its other legislation through the chamber during the special session, SB 9 is poised to head toward the House later this week.

But while the Senate is moving full-steam ahead with the piece of legislation, it is likely to meet a brick wall in the lower chamber where House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) stated his opposition to the proposal.

Pointing to the election integrity bill that the legislature approved in the previous special session, SB 1, Phelan said it was time to leave the issue of election reform behind.

“With much acclaim from elected officials and voters, Governor Gregg Abbott then signed the bill into law,” said Phelan. “Now is not the time to re-litigate. Instead, the House will remain focused on its constitutional obligation to pass redistricting maps, and members look forward to fulfilling this critical task.”

In response to Phelan’s opposition to bumping the penalties back up to what they were, the Republican Party of Texas called on Abbott to not back down.

“Speaker Phelan has indicated he will block any attempt to fix SB1,” stated Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi. “We therefore ask Governor Abbott to keep calling Special Sessions until the Speaker allows the House to fix this error.”

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.