AUSTIN, TX. - In Texas, Republican lawmakers have been pushing for greater voting restrictions and harsher penalties for illegal voting. Some see the legislation as a way to suppress the votes of marginalized communities. In contrast, others argue that the measures are necessary to protect the integrity of elections and ensure fair results.
Thomas A. Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, believes that the true intent of these efforts is to suppress the vote. He said that even if someone has every right to vote or facilitate participation in an election, these threats may still cause them to hesitate. In particular, he noted that these restrictions come alongside demographic changes in Texas, which could weaken Republicans' grip on power in the state.
One such bill proposed in 2021 would require the secretary of state to designate select state law enforcement officials as "election marshals" with the power to investigate voting crimes. It was passed out of the Senate but floundered in the House before being reintroduced by Houston-area Republican Senator Paul Bettencourt who has also said he will introduce more "voter integrity legislation" during this year's session.
Meanwhile, Republican Lt. Gov Dan Patrick has called for a restoration of voter fraud from a misdemeanor to a felony charge, arguing that it is a serious crime,
when you steal someone's vote."
Another bill filed ahead of this legislative session seeks to make illegal voting punishable by a felony charge with prison sentences ranging from two to 20 years plus possible fines up to $10,000. However, other bills that aim to change how elections are conducted outside of criminalizing those violating their laws are pushed through.
One such example is allowing certain poll workers, known as election judges, to carry guns at polling places during early voting and on Election Day itself.
Despite these bills being discussed and put forward for debate, some suggest that time could be better spent focusing on more pressing issues facing Texans than specific details about how local officials conduct their elections. For example, Texas' electric grid is famously unreliable, and there are questions surrounding its energy policy that should be looked into rather than debating tighter regulations around voter fraud or gun-toting poll workers.
Ultimately there is a strong divide between proponents and opponents when discussing any new voter regulations being imposed in Texas. Whether they help or hinder those looking to cast their votes in this upcoming 2024 election remains unanswered until we see what new laws pass through during this legislative session and beyond 2023.
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