Texas Senate passes bill restoring felony penalty to illegal voting

Senate Bill 2, which makes illegal voting a felony, passed the senate Tuesday.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 4:19 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2023 at 5:15 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KLTV) - Senate Bill 2, which makes illegal voting a felony, passed the senate Tuesday.

The bill, filed and defended by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), restores the felony status of illegal voting crimes. Voting illegally had been a felony for more than 50 years until 2021, when it was reduced to a misdemeanor.

In addition to increasing the penalty for illegal voting, the bill removes the “mens rea,” meaning people breaking voting laws no longer need to know they’re breaking the law in order to be convicted of doing so.

Several Democratic senators took issue with this provision and were concerned that SB2 may unintentionally criminalize accidental voting mishaps. Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) in particular was concerned that this bill will “deter people from wanting to vote.”

Hughes responded to this with an analogy, saying: “Under the law today, if I break into your house and I take your stuff, and I intentionally know it’s your house, I’m taking your stuff, and I’m convicted, I’m guilty of the crime of burglary. I don’t have to know that burglary is against the law. I just have to know that I came in your house, broke in your house, and took your stuff.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick issued a statement Tuesday praising Hughes and the passing of the bill.

“Maintaining the integrity of Texas’ elections has been a top priority of mine since I was elected to the Texas Senate and throughout my tenure as Lt. Governor,” Patrick said. “For years, I have been explicit in saying that I want to make it easier for Texans to vote and harder to cheat. Voters demand secure elections.”

The bill passed the senate with a final vote of 19 for and 12 against.

In order for the bill to fully become law, however, it must also pass the House of Representatives. The House version of the bill, HB 4198, has been filed by Rep. Steve Toth (R-Spring).