The Texas Senate tentatively approved a bill Wednesday aiming to crack down on mail-in ballot fraud, largely by beefing up criminal penalties — a response to voting irregularities in Dallas County. “Any attempt to scam the system,” said Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who authored Senate Bill 5, “must be addressed accordingly.” With a 21-10 vote, the chamber advanced the bill mostly along party lines. Several Democrats said they initially planned to back it, but they voted against the proposal due to a section that appeared to criminalize certain political discussions between family members “in the presence of” a mail-in ballot. “There is the possibility that a family member looking over my shoulder — saying you should vote for Sen. Van Taylor — that individual would be in violation of this section of the law,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “I see this as a potential trap for senior citizens.”
… 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.