Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called on the state’s lawmakers to impose harsher penalties for illegal voting, building on earlier efforts that saw the Republican leader push for a forensic audit of the 2020 election.
Abbott asked the Secretary of the Texas Senate on Sept. 30 to identify legislation for consideration during the current special session that would raise the penalties for illegal voting after an earlier bill, SB 1 (pdf), reduced the punishment to a misdemeanor from a felony.
“The State of Texas has made tremendous progress in upholding the integrity of our elections,” Abbott said in a statement. “By increasing penalties for illegal voting, we will send an even clearer message that voter fraud will not be tolerated in Texas.”
Earlier in September, Abbott signed into law SB 1, an election reform bill that its supporters say shores up election integrity, but whose detractors say establishes obstacles to voting. Besides establishing new ID requirements for voting by mail and making ballot harvesting a third-degree felony, the bill also changed the crime of illegal voting from a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, into a Class A misdemeanor, which can be resolved via a fine.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the state Senate, praised Abbott’s move to increase the punishment for illegal voting. Patrick wrote on Twitter that the Texas House had added the amendment lowering the penalties at the last minute, and the change went undetected until he and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton discovered it.
Paxton weighed in on Abbott’s move as well.
“An outstanding decision to demand increased penalties for vote fraudsters. I have always been in favor of swift & sure justice on those who attack the heart of our constitutional republic. I will continue to muster all my resources to defend election integrity,” he wrote on Twitter.
Earlier, Abbott had pushed for an audit of the 2020 general election in four Texas counties—Harris, Collin, Dallas, and Tarrant. The Texas Secretary of State’s office announced on Sept. 28 that it would be carrying out the audit, with phase one—involving verifying the accuracy of voting machines, assessing cybersecurity, and examining voter rolls—already underway.
The review was announced shortly after former President Donald Trump called on Abbott to audit the election and shortly before an audit in Arizona was announced to have uncovered inconsistencies.
Trump won Texas in the 2020 election by about 630,000 votes, but said in a letter to Abbott that he heard that Texans want an audit.
“Your citizens don’t trust the election system,” he wrote. “Texans know voting fraud occurred in some of their counties.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat, recently told reporters that “the sensational announcement of an audit by the state is nothing more than a political ploy by a former president and someone who’s trying to curry favor.”
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.