New bill seeks harsher punishment for voter fraud

Group believes bill will hurt voter turnout

SAN ANTONIO – Right now, if you commit voter fraud, it's considered a class A misdemeanor, but a state bill could change that charge to a felony if it becomes law.

Senate Bill 9 recently passed in the state Senate and will go to the House for review.

One senator said this bill is necessary, while one local group thinks it will hurt voter turnout.

“SB 9 is a bad bill for democracy,” said Madhu Sridhar, president of the League of Women Voters in San Antonio, about the bill.

She and the author of Senate Bill 9 disagree on the implications the bill could have on Texas voters.

“There's not much more (that's) fundamentals (sic) to democracy than the right to vote. That's what this bill is about,” said state Sen. Bryan Huges, R-Mineola. 

SB 9 aims to create a more severe punishment for those that commit voter fraud. Hughes said it mainly does two things:

1. It creates a paper trail of how a person voted.

2. It increases penalties from a misdemeanor to a felony if someone commits voter fraud. 

Voter fraud is when you intentionally vote, knowing that you're not allowed to vote. If you're not a U.S. citizen or have been convicted of certain felonies, you aren't allowed to vote.

Members of the League of Women Voters fear the bill will intimidate voters from going to the polls.

“If someone when registering to vote makes a very honest and innocent mistake, they can be jailed for that,” Sridhar said.

Another part of the bill would allow a third person, a polling official, into the booth to monitor the person helping an elderly or disabled voter who isn't related to the voter.

“We want to make sure that that person who claims to be assisting them really is assisting them and is not there to report on how they vote or influence their vote,” Hughes said. 

Sridhar said that will destroy the right to a secret ballot.

“Where is the secrecy there?” Sridhar said.

Hughes disagrees and said the provisions are there to help, not hurt, voters, urging those speaking out against the bill to read it carefully.

“If they read the bill carefully and the read the statute that's amended, it's very clear,” Hughes said.

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