House ap­proves penalty bill for mail-in bal­lot fraud

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Johnathan Sil­ver jsil­ver@states­man.com Con­tact Johnathan Sil­ver at 512-445-3631.

The Texas House gave fi­nal ap­proval to a bill Thurs­day that would in­crease penal­ties for mail-in bal­lot fraud, one of Gov. Greg Ab­bott’s 20 pri­or­i­ties for the 30-day special leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

The cham­ber de­bated Se­nate Bill 5 for more than three hours Wed­nes­day but quickly passed the mea­sure 92-39 on Thurs­day. The bill, by Sen. Kelly Han­cock, R-North Rich­land Hills, would re­quire a sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion process for early bal­lots, no­ti­fi­ca­tion 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 carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Han­cock and bill sup­port­ers have said the bill would pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble vot­ers: se­niors and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

The House ap­proved changes to the bill that would pro­hibit elec­tronic sig­na­tures on mail-in bal­lot ap­pli­ca­tions and re­peal House Bill 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 res­i­den­tial-care fa­cil­i­ties to vote by bring­ing bal­lots and an elec­tion of­fi­cial to their lo­ca­tion — if at least five vot­ers liv­ing there re­quest a bal­lot. Ab­bott signed the bill into law in June, set­ting it to take ef­fect Sept. 1.

House Democrats ar­gued Wed­nes­day that SB 5 focuses more on penal­ties than so­lu­tions to fraud, and that a special ses­sion isn’t enough time to draft sound leg­is­la­tion. Rep. Eric John­son, D-Dal­las, called SB 5 “sloppy” and ar­gued for a more ro­bust con­ver­sa­tion be­fore mov­ing for­ward.

The bill next goes to the Se­nate, which can ap­prove it as amended, or as­sign mem­bers to hash out dif­fer­ences with House mem­bers, be­fore send­ing it to Ab­bott’s desk.

Sen. Kelly Han­cock’s bill re­quires ver­i­fied mail-in sig­na­tures.

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