UPDATED March 14.
Texas Senators debated legislation to restore felony penalties for illegal voting, with Republicans approving the measure and Democrats opposed.
Senate Bill 2, authored by State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R–Mineola), advanced Monday on a party-line vote of 19-12. The bill finally passed the Senate on another 19-12 party-line vote and now moves to the House.
SB 2 returns the penalty for illegal voting to a second-degree felony, reversing a provision in Hughes’ 2021 comprehensive election integrity bill that downgraded illegal voting from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor.
“We shouldn’t make people think we’re making a radical change,” Hughes said on the Senate floor Monday. “We are restoring the law to where it was two years ago.”
Illegal voting is a collection of offenses that includes stealing votes, double voting, and other forms of cheating.
“This offense has been a felony for 50 years,” Hughes added.
Responding to Democrats’ concerns that voters might be penalized for honest mistakes, Hughes emphasized that the crimes must be committed “knowingly or intentionally” to trigger the stiffer penalty.
Hughes said Monday that the lowered penalty was part of a “late amendment” in 2021 that “was not discussed or debated when it was presented last session.”
The last-minute switch infuriated election integrity advocates and Republican Party delegates, who had set a legislative priority to strengthen penalties for election code violations.
Restoring the felony penalty for illegal voting is a Texas GOP priority for this session, prompting multiple Republican lawmakers to file bills that fix the switch.
SB 2 will face the same process in the Texas House. Four similar bills were also filed in the House and have been referred to the House Elections Committee.