UPDATE: On Monday, March 13, S.B. 2 passed the Texas Senate. The bill now goes to the state House.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Feb. 21, Texas Republicans introduced Senate Bill 2, which would raise the penalty for illegally voting from a misdemeanor to a felony, a drastic increase that could inadvertently harm voters. The bill also changes the standard for determining someone’s intent for illegally voting in ways that could ensnare individuals who vote without knowing their ineligibility. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has identified S.B. 2 as one of his top priorities for this year’s legislative session.
Under current law, an individual is guilty of illegally voting if they vote in an election in which “the person knows the person is not ineligible to vote.” S.B. 2 changes this standard so that individuals are guilty if they “know of a particular circumstance that makes the person” not eligible to vote. Under this standard, prosecutors don’t need to prove that someone knew they weren’t eligible; prosecutors just have to prove individuals knew of some other factor, such as having a prior felony conviction or being a noncitizen, that made the voters ineligible. As a result, individuals who believe they’re eligible to vote could still be convicted of a felony and face up to 20 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.