UPDATE: On Tuesday, June 13, Abbott signed H.B. 1243 into law.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Sunday, May 28, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1243, a bill raising the penalty for illegal voting to a felony. H.B. 1243 now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for his signature.
Texas’ omnibus 2021 voter suppression law, Senate Bill 1, previously decreased the penalty to a misdemeanor. Ahead of this year’s legislative session, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) designated raising the penalty as one of his top priorities. Civil and voting rights advocates warn that the bill would do nothing to deter illegal voting and cause unnecessary incarcerations.
H.B. 1243 merely states that illegal voting is a felony. However, Patrick’s original proposal was broader and would have changed the definition of illegal voting in a way that could have ensnared individuals who voted without knowing they were ineligible. The House and Senate disagreed on including this standard in the bill, and ultimately the House’s version prevailed, so voters can only be found guilty if they voted while knowing they were ineligible. While H.B. 1243 could still prove harmful to Texans, it will not criminalize good faith mistakes the way the original proposal could have.