Stateline: Felon Voting Laws Are Confusing. Is It Time to Ditch Them?
Her sentencing made headlines across the country this week: A woman, recently released from prison in Texas and still on felony probation, is set to head back to prison for another five years after she unknowingly broke the law by voting in the 2016 election.
Texas law prohibits people such as Crystal Mason from voting until they are no longer under supervision by corrections officers. Mason told the court she had no idea she was prohibited from voting. At her polling station, officials let her cast a provisional ballot.
Blair Bowie, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works on election-related issues (the center was founded with a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, which also funds Stateline) said restrictions on felons’ voting rights likely keep away eligible voters. While an estimated 6 million felons are ineligible to vote, there are many more people with past convictions who may be scared away by forms that threaten jail time for those who vote illegally but don’t explain who is disqualified.
“I think for a lot of people if there is any ambiguity they are going to err on the side of not voting at all because they don’t want to get sucked back into the criminal justice system,” Bowie said. “They should make it easy for people to understand what their rights are if they’ve lost their voting rights and, if they can get it back, how they should do that.”