WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, April 28, the Texas House passed House Bill 1243, a bill that would increase the penalty for illegal voting to a felony. Texas’ omnibus 2021 voter suppression law lowered the penalty to a misdemeanor, but H.B. 1243 instead would restore the penalty to a felony, which could carry a punishment of up to 20 years in prison and $10,000 of fines. Civil and voting rights advocates warn that the bill would do nothing to deter illegal voting and cause unnecessary incarcerations.
H.B. 1243 is similar to Senate Bill 2, which passed the state Senate on March 13 and is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s (R) top priority bills this year. Unlike the House bill, S.B. 2 would also make an individual guilty of illegal voting if they know “of a particular circumstance that makes the person” not eligible to vote. Currently, those who vote illegally are only deemed guilty if they knew they were ineligible before voting. Under S.B. 2, however, individuals wouldn’t have to know they aren’t eligible to vote to be guilty; they would just have to know of some other factor, like having a prior felony conviction or being a noncitizen, that made them ineligible. As a result, an individual who sincerely believes they are eligible to vote could still be guilty of illegal voting and be convicted of a felony.
The Texas House and Senate would need to agree on the same bill before it can go to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) desk for his signature.