On the first day of Texas’s 88th regular legislative session, a Republican state representative filed a bill that would increase the criminal penalty for the offense of illegal voting from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony.
It’s the latest in a string of similar bills that had been pre-filed by Republican lawmakers ahead of the state’s legislative session this year to increase the severity of the punishment for illegal voting, amid unresolved concerns of voting irregularities in Harris County that allegedly took place during the November 2022 election.
Currently, Texas law says illegal voting is a Class A misdemeanor.
HB 1243 (pdf), filed by state Rep. Cole Hefner on Jan. 10, would amend Texas’s statute to say that if a person is convicted of illegal voting, it would amount to a felony of the second degree. Meanwhile, if the person is convicted of having just attempted to vote illegally, it would be categorized as a state jail felony.
The penalties associated with the changes in the bill would be more severe, according to the Texas Penal Code. Class A misdemeanors in Texas are punishable by up to $4,000 in fines and one year in jail. Meanwhile, felonies of the second degree are punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and 2 to 20 years in jail. As for a state jail felony, the convicted person can be punished by confinement in state jail for between 180 days to two years, and be fined up to $10,000.
Same or similar bills have also been pre-filed, seeking to amend Section 64.012(b) of Texas’s Election Code. HB 1243 has the same wording as HB 52 (pdf), which was filed by Republican state Rep. David Spiller on Nov. 14, 2022. Other bills pre-filed by other state GOP lawmakers—HB 222 (pdf), HB 397 (pdf), and SB 166 (pdf)—would also increase the penalty for illegal voting from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony.
Separately, HB 39 (pdf) was pre-filed by a GOP lawmaker, seeking to amend Section 276.013(b) of Texas’s Election Code to increase the penalty for election fraud from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony.
There are more than 70 bills related to voting and election laws, with Republican-filed bills largely seeking to boost election integrity, and Democrat-filed bills largely seeking to expand voter access.
In the Nov. 8, 2022 midterm elections, Texas’s Harris County saw voter complaints of delayed openings at polling places, paper ballot shortages, staffing shortages, and other issues. This prompted Harris County’s District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, to request on Nov. 14, 2022 the Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS) to investigate the matter. Her request was a follow up on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s call on the same day for the Texas secretary of state, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Texas Rangers—part of the TDPS—to do the same.
The Epoch Times has reached out to the TDPS, the Texas secretary of state, and the Texas Attorney General’s Office for comment.