Abbott calls for Texas legislature to increase penalty for illegal voting

Texas Gov. Greg AbbottGreg AbbottTexas school district pulls 400 books from libraries after state GOP lawmaker's inquiry DOJ sues over Texas's redistricting plan Sunday shows preview: Multiple states detect cases of the omicron variant MORE (R) is calling on state lawmakers to stiffen the penalties for illegal voting.

A sweeping elections bill signed into law last month lowered illegal voting in Texas from a second degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor. That change was scheduled to take effect in December. 

But in a message to the secretary of the state Senate on Thursday, Abbott urged lawmakers, now in a special session, to take up legislation that would effectively reverse that change. 

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“The State of Texas has made tremendous progress in upholding the integrity of our elections,” he 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.”

A Class A misdemeanor can include up to a year in prison, but can also simply result in a fine. By comparison, a second-degree felony in Texas can come with a sentence of as much as 20 years in prison. 

Abbott’s call is only the latest in a series of election-related moves by Texas Republicans. Last month, he signed into law Senate Bill 1, a sweeping measure that seeks to tighten state election laws and restrict local control over the process. 

That bill was the subject of a months-long fight between Republicans and Democrats in the legislature that at one point saw state House Democrats flee to Washington, D.C., in an effort to break quorum and lobby members of Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation.

Just last week, the Texas secretary of state’s office announced that it would launch a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election in four of the state’s largest counties. That announcement came just hours after former President TrumpDonald TrumpJury in Jussie Smollett trial begins deliberations Pence says he'll 'evaluate' any requests from Jan. 6 panel Biden's drug overdose strategy pushes treatment for some, prison for others MORE publicly demanded that Abbott back legislation creating such an audit.

Texas’s penalties for illegal voting, which is very rare, have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. In one notable case, a Tarrant County woman named Crystal Mason was convicted of voter fraud for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election that she says she did not know she was ineligible to cast.

Mason was sentenced to five years in prison and is appealing her conviction.