New Texas Bill Aimed at Absentee Ballot Fraud Could Violate First Amendment By Criminalizing Some Discussions of Candidates

I’ve said for years that if Republicans were serious about combatting voter fraud, at the top of the list would be measures to stop absentee ballot fraud. Voter fraud is rare, but when it does happen, it more often involves absentee ballots than anything else.

So I’m not opposed to increased penalties for buying and selling absentee ballots, or coercing voters to vote in a particular way.

But a new Texas bill (SB 5—not the same as the earlier SB 5 involving voter id) would appear to make it a felony for family members to discuss candidates or issues while there is an absentee ballot in the house. Texas Tribune:

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats said they backed the main thrust of the bill, but they voted against it because the definition of “election fraud” would include anyone who sought to “influence the independent exercise of the vote of another in the presence of the ballot or during the voting process.”

The bill would treat such offenses as Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail and up to $4,000 in fines. Repeat offenders or those illegally influencing voters aged 65 and older would get stiffer penalties.

West, along with others Democrats — including Sens. Judith Zaffirini, of Laredo, and José Rodríguez of El Paso — asked if that provision applied to family members or roommates discussing candidate choices while a mail-in ballot was nearby, perhaps around a dining room table.

“Under this particular section, both of them could be charged with a particular offense, because they were assisting one another in filling out their ballots,” West said, pointing out that other sections of that bill carried exceptions for family members — but not the section in dispute.

Hancock confirmed the fraud definition would apply to voters filling out ballots at home, the same as it would for voters being influenced at the polls.

“In this particular section, once you have your ballot, you’re treated as any other citizen who has a ballot,” he said.  “When we’re dealing with the disabled, when we’re dealing with the elderly, I think they deserve the same privacy and protection as every other voter.”

Hancock also suggested family members were unlikely to bring forward allegations of voter fraud originating at dining room tables.


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