Governor Greg Abbott enacted a new law that increases the severity of the criminal penalty for election fraud, reinstating it as a felony. Under this legislation, individuals found guilty of voter fraud can now face up to 20 years of imprisonment.
The offense was previously downgraded to a misdemeanor for a period of two years, following a Republican initiative in the Texas House that sought to address concerns regarding unintentional illegal voting.
According to the text from House Bill 1243, the bill passed in the House on April 28, 2023, with a vote of 88-60. The Senate later passed it 19-11 on May 24. The new law will go into effect on September 1, 2023.
“We must ensure that Texans are confident that the legitimate votes they cast will be counted and are not canceled out by someone who has knowingly or intentionally cast an illegal ballot,” the bill's sponsor Rep. Cole Hefner said.
According to The Dallas Morning News, the Republican Party in Texas consistently prioritized addressing election fraud, particularly during the tenure of Donald Trump as party leader. Following the 2020 election, where Trump made unsubstantiated claims of extensive fraud, there was a surge of support for a comprehensive election law that was subsequently enacted in 2021.
As a result of the 2021 legislation, several changes were implemented in the mail ballot process, including the introduction of new voter ID checks. But these changes resulted in a significant increase in the number of rejected ballots.
“For two years, illegal voting was a Class A misdemeanor in Texas,” Emily Eby French, a voting rights attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told The Dallas Morning News. “There was no surge in illegal voting during that time. HB 1243 restores a felony penalty that is based in intimidation and suppression, not in reality.”