House panel ap­proves mail-in vote fraud bills

Party-line votes ad­vance item on gov­er­nor’s agenda.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Johnathan Sil­ver jsil­ver@states­man.com Con­tact Johnathan Sil­ver at 512-445-3631.

The House Elec­tions Com­mit­tee on Mon­day voted 4-2 along party lines to ap­prove Se­nate Bill 5, al­ready cleared by the Se­nate. The bill by Sen. Kelly Han­cock, R-North Rich­land Hills, would re­quire a sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion process for early bal­lots, no­ti­fica- tion of re­jected ones within a month af­ter an elec­tion and a process for cor­rect­ing er­rors. Pun­ish­ment for com­mit­ting mail-in voter fraud in some cases could reach $4,000 and up to a year in jail. Han­cock and bill sup­port­ers have said the bill would pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble vot­ers: se­niors and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

Democrats Celia Is­rael of Austin and Ron Reynolds of Mis­souri City voted no.

For Tex­ans to be el­i­gi­ble to vote by mail, they must be 65 or older, have a dis­abil- ity, be out­side their county on Elec­tion Day or dur­ing the early vot­ing pe­riod or in jail but still el­i­gi­ble to vote in gen­eral, ac­cord­ing to the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice.

The com­mit­tee also voted 4-2 to ap­prove House Bill 184, by Rep. Craig Gold­man, R-Fort Worth, which has sim­i­lar mail-in bal­lot fraud pro­tec­tions as Han­cock’s leg­is­la­tion. One ma­jor dif­fer­ence: the House bill would abol­ish HB 658 — passed dur­ing the reg­u­lar ses­sion ear­lier this year — which gives vot­ing pri­or­ity to peo­ple with mo­bil­ity is­sues and makes it easier for peo­ple in res­i­den- tial care fa­cil­i­ties to vote by bring­ing bal­lots and an elec- tion of­fi­cial to their lo­ca­tion — if at least five vot­ers liv­ing there re­quest a bal­lot. Gov. Greg Ab­bott signed the bill into law in June, set­ting it to take ef­fect on Sept. 1.

The panel also ap­proved 4-2 HB 96, by Valoree Swan- son, R-Spring, which would al­low sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion com­mit­tees to com­pare sig­na­tures on car­rier en­ve­lope cer­tifi­cates to any two or more other sig­na­tures by the voter “within the pre­ced­ing six years and on file with the gen­eral cus­to­dian of elec­tion records or voter regis­trar.”

Re­duc­ing mail-in bal­lot fraud is one of Gov. Greg Ab­bott’s 20 spe­cial ses­sion items. As law­mak­ers look for a so­lu­tion, Dal­las County is pros­e­cut­ing a mail-bal- lot fraud case in which 700 bal­lots were marked as sus­pi­cious.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL/ AMERICANSTATESMAN

State Rep. Craig Gold­man, R-Fort Worth, seen in May, au­thored House Bill 184, which cleared the elec­tions panel.

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