Updated to include comments from Speaker Dade Phelan and Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi.
Responding to calls from Texans irate over the Legislature “decriminalizing” voter fraud—in a bill intended to increase voting integrity—Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has added “increasing penalties for illegal voting” to the agenda for the ongoing third special session.
Texas Scorecard reported last week that Senate Bill 1, Texas Republicans’ signature election integrity measure passed during the second special session in August, actually included a provision to weaken the penalty for illegal voting from a second-degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor.
Weaker penalties for election law violations was the exact opposite of what Republican grassroots told lawmakers they wanted.
“Who in their right mind would agree to reducing the criminal penalties for voter fraud?” asked JoAnn Fleming. Her conservative advocacy group, Grassroots America – We The People, was the first to call out the last-minute bait-and-switch in the bill.
Fleming and other election integrity advocates have been lighting up lawmakers ever since.
Abbott relented Thursday, adding to the third called session:
Legislation increasing penalties for illegal voting that were reduced in Senate Bill No. 1 that passed in the 87th Legislature, Second Called Session.
“The State of Texas has made tremendous progress in upholding the integrity of our elections,” Abbott said in a press statement. “By increasing penalties for illegal voting, we will send an even clearer message that voter fraud will not be tolerated in Texas.”
Republican lawmakers have still offered no explanation for why they agreed to downgrade the penalties for voter fraud in the first place.
While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was quick to endorse the move, House Speaker Dade Phelan responded Thursday night via Twitter that he did not intend to “re-litigate” the legislation.
— Dade Phelan (@DadePhelan) October 1, 2021
Shortly after Phelan’s statement was released, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Matt Rinaldi told Texas Scorecard he stood with Patrick:
Dan Patrick has made it clear he is committed to fixing the bill. Speaker Phelan wants to stop any attempt to prevent the weaker penalties for voter fraud to take effect. The Republican Party urges the Governor to stand with Lt. Gov. Patrick and call special sessions until the House passes this important fix to the election integrity bill.