The Texas Senate passed a bill Monday that would require both electronic and paper ballots during elections by the 2024 general election.
State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said he authored Senate Bill 9 to prevent election hacking by leaving a paper trail of how a person voted and increasing the penalties for voter fraud, but critics say the bill would create more voting restrictions.
“The paper-backed (system) is more secure because it would require a bad actor to simultaneously hack the electronic record and the paper record,” Hughes said on the Senate floor. “Changing one or the other would be hard, but it could be done. Changing both in the same way that would alter the results of an election is close to impossible.”
SB 9 would increase the penalty for voter fraud from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000, while a state jail felony is punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
State Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, voiced concerns that the bill could create criminal penalties for people who fill out a provisional ballot if they are unsure of their voter registration status, a practice that currently has no penalties.
“(Hughes is) telling us it’s about voter integrity, but we could actually be jeopardizing this by potentially criminalizing voters who cast a provisional ballot,” Menéndez said. “(Provisional ballots) allow voters to follow up with the county to make sure their ballot was counted, and the law explicitly refers to provisional voting as fail-safe voting.”
Menéndez said Texas counties encourage election workers to offer provisional ballots to people who may be unsure of their registration status if they’ve recently moved or do not have proper paperwork with them.
“Under state law, provisional voting ballots automatically serve as a voter registration application,” Menéndez said. “(This bill) would criminalize people who aren’t sure of their registration status and fill out a provisional ballot.”
Menéndez wrote an amendment that would strike language from SB 9 concerning how officials determine whether someone knows they are voting illegally. As written, Section 1.05 of Hughes’ bill says a person is aware they are ineligible to vote if they are aware of the circumstances causing them to be ineligible.
“If I know I’m not a citizen or if I know I’m a felon and I’ve not completed the terms and had my rights restored — if I know those facts then I’m not supposed to be voting,” Hughes said in response to the amendment. “By removing Section 1.05, we’d be weakening the bill and really complicating prosecution of folks who are guilty of a criminal act.”
State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, wrote a similar amendment to clarify that false statements on voter applications must be intentional in order to warrant penalties.
“If we’re going to make people felons, we should at least make sure they are intentionally committing the fraud and not just checking the wrong box,” Rodríguez said.
Both Menéndez’s and Rodríguez’s amendments failed to pass a Senate vote. SB 9 passed out of the Senate in a 19-12 vote and now heads to the House floor for debate.