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Texas Senate backs election changes; critics suspect suppression

The Republican-majority state Senate voted Monday for a package of election law changes that opponents deride as a thinly-veiled effort to suppress turnout in Texas as it moves toward becoming the nation's biggest politically competitive state.

The bill would turn some election-related misdemeanors into felonies and end the requirement that such offenses be committed with fraudulent intent. It would also expand police powers to conduct sting investigations in political cases, make it tougher for seniors and the disabled to get help at polling places, and tighten the regulation of election volunteers. (To the delight of those advocating for more transparent elections, however, the measure would mandate all electronic voting machines produce a paper record.)

"There are no changes in this bill that are intended or would create a pitfall or a trap for the unwary or a 'gotcha' in elections," GOP state Sen. Bryan Hughes said. "Changes in this bill are to catch and punish cheaters."

"This legislation magnifies the voter suppression tactics that [Texas politicians] have been pursuing for the last couple of years," Zenén Jaimes Pérez, advocacy director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, countered to the San Antonio Current.

GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says the measure is one of his top priorities for a session that ends in six weeks. It now goes to the state House, where the Republican majority is a bit narrower than in the Senate.

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