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Voter Bill Draws Familiar Fight

In keeping with Republican lawmakers' promises to strengthen state voting laws, the House today tentatively passed a bill that would make it a separate punishable offense for an illegal immigrant or non-citizen to vote or attempt to vote.

Picture of "Vote Aqui" sign during 2010 elections.

It’s already a felony for individuals to knowingly vote or try to vote if they are ineligible from doing so for any number or reasons, including being a non-citizen or illegal immigrant. But Republican lawmakers campaigned on promises to strengthen Texas’ voting laws.

Today the House tentatively passed HB 804, by state Rep. Tyron Lewis, R-Odessa, which would make it a separate punishable offense for an illegal immigrant or non-citizen to vote or attempt to vote. The bill makes it a second-degree felony — punishable by a jail term of two to 20 years and as much as a $10,000 fine — for a non-citizen to vote in an election. (The violation was originally a third-degree felony but was amended by state Rep. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville to increase the penalty.) An attempt by an illegal immigrant to vote would be a state jail felony.

The bill also establishes an affirmative defense if the person believed in good faith that he or she was a citizen of the United States.

The debate was briefer but just as spirited and partisan as the voter ID debate. Democrats alleged the legislation would disenfranchise voters and keep legitimate voters from the polls. Republicans said it was a necessary to purge from the voting booths the illegal immigrants who swing elections.

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