Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas just signed a bill that upgrades voter fraud from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The new bill was meant to rectify the 2021 decision to downgrade the crime to a misdemeanor, a decision made because of concerns over inadvertent voter fraud.
Gov. Abbott signed the bill without much fanfare and, unlike with his recent border initiatives, his office did not post a press release or even a statement on the new bill on his website. His office also did not respond to requests for a comment to either the Daily Caller or Dallas Morning News. As a result, the big change has so far mostly flown under the radar and not yet attracted the usual sort of fire and brimstone from the left.
Rep. Cole Hefner, the author of the bill changing voter fraud from a misdemeanor to a felony, defended that change in a late-April hearing on it, saying, “We have made tremendous strides toward election integrity in recent years, but we must ensure Texans are confident the legitimate votes they cast will be counted and are not canceled out by someone who has knowingly or intentionally cast an illegal ballot.”
The left argued that the switch back to voter fraud being a felony was unnecessary. For example, Texas Civil Rights Project voting rights attorney Emily Eby French said, “For two years, illegal voting was a Class A misdemeanor in Texas. There was no surge in illegal voting during that time. HB 1243 restores a felony penalty that is based in intimidation and suppression, not in reality.
This new bill isn’t all Texas has done to change how its elections are handled after the controversial 2020 election. Following that election, the Texas legislature and governor worked together to pass a sweeping suite of new electoral laws.
Those laws turned voter fraud into a misdemeanor instead of a felony, but also restricted overnight voting, banned so-called “drive-thru voting,” changed how mail-in voting is conducted by adding safeguards to it, giving poll watchers more freedom to move through and investigate polling places, and made it a felony if officials distributed mail-in ballots to potential voters without them having requested the ballots. Such is what The Texas Tribune reported at the time.
One of the more meaningful changes in 2021 to Texas electoral law was adding a voter ID check to mail-in ballots, which The Dallas Morning News reports then caused a surge in rejected mail-in ballots in the 2022 midterm elections.
The Dallas Morning News, in a separate article on the subject of voter fraud prosecution in Texas, reports that Brennan Center for Justice counsel Eliza Sweren-Becker said the law would “lower the bar for what constitutes fraud.” Continuing, she said, “The standard in many, many states is that you have to know that you don’t possess the qualifications for eligibility, not just you have to know a fact that as a result makes you ineligible.“