Texas Senate's Voter Fraud Bill Aims to Scare People Away From the Polls, Civil Rights Groups Charge

click to enlarge JERRY STRATTON
Jerry Stratton
At a Tuesday rally at the Texas Capitol, civil rights groups warned that a measure passed by the state Senate could send people to jail for making an honest mistake while filling out a voter registration.

The Republican-championed Senate Bill 9 — purportedly designed to crack down on voter fraud — actually may have more to do with scaring potential Democratic voters away from the polls, the groups maintain. The bill, passed Monday by the Senate, makes it a state jail felony to provide incorrect information on a voter application, currently a Class B misdemeanor.

"This legislation magnifies the voter suppression tactics that [Texas politicians] have been pursuing for the last couple of years," said Zenén Jaimes Pérez, advocacy director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, in a phone interview with the Current.

Speakers from MOVE Texas, Texas Freedom Network, the League of Women Voters and others joined TCRP at the rally.

Texas has a lengthy history of using claims of voter fraud to steer voters away from the polls, voting-rights advocates point out. Recently, the U.S. House launched an investigation into a mistake-laden voter purge by Texas Secretary of State David Whitley.

SB 9 now moves to the Texas House of Representatives, where it must survive committee discussion before a full vote in the chamber. The current legislative session ends May 27.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has identified passage of the bill as one of his top legislative priorities for the session.

In an interview with Austin radio station KUT, bill sponsor Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said the legislation wasn't designed to criminalize simple mistakes.

"There are no changes in this bill that would create a pitfall or a trial for the unwary or a 'gotcha' in elections," he said. "The changes in this bill are to catch and punish cheaters."

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