AUSTIN — The Texas Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing Monday on Senate Bill 2, a dangerous attempt to increase the criminal penalties for those who may make inadvertent mistakes when voting.
The bill introduced by Sen. Bryan Hughes, (R-Mineola) would increase the penalty for illegal voting to a second-degree felony, which can carry a punishment of two to 20 years of imprisonment, up from a misdemeanor. It would also lower the bar for prosecuting these cases, paving the way for a wave of baseless criminal prosecutions designed to ensnare vulnerable Texans.
The bill was left pending by the committee after over two hours of public testimony.
Voter fraud is incredibly rare in Texas and in the United States. A 2022 ProPublica report found the Texas Secretary of State’s Election Crimes Division only considered 390 allegations of voter fraud, leading to just five prosecutions over a two-year period in which nearly 20 million votes were cast.
In addition, the Senate Committee on Nominations heard confirmation testimony from Secretary of State Jane Nelson Monday. Predecessors in that position opted to use their office to illegally purge thousands of eligible voters, decrease funding for voter outreach in their legislative budget requests, and saw tens of thousands of ballots from eligible voters rejected in 2022 due to unnecessary changes and confusion.
The following is a statement from Katya Ehresman, Common Cause Texas’ Voting Rights Program Manager:
“Our right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. Injecting the voting process with the threat of criminal prosecution will accomplish only one thing — scaring eligible voters away from exercising their rights to vote.
“The first hearings of the Texas legislature have the opportunity to set the tone and priorities for the legislative session. It is disappointing that today, Senators have prioritized hearing a dangerous bill that would penalize innocent mistakes from voters who may experience confusion navigating a chronically underfunded election system, while Secretary Nelson’s confirmation presents opportunities for the legislature to set a new tone on prioritizing voters’ access.
“Texas lawmakers have an opportunity to use the next 90 days of their part-time session to put voters first, and it is critical that upcoming hearings put improved access reforms first.”