A Texas woman on probation said she had no idea that she was breaking the law by voting, and got a five-year prison term. Critics say that restrictions on felons’ voting rights keep away eligible voters.
Crystal Mason, the Texas woman on probation who got five more years in prison for voting illegally in 2016, said she had no idea she was breaking the law. The confusion over felons’ voting rights is not limited to Mason’s situation or to Texas, reports Stateline. State felon voting laws vary widely. Some states bar people from voting only while they are in prison, while others deny voting rights to people who are still under the supervision of a probation or parole officer. Some prohibit convicted felons from voting for the rest of their lives, unless they receive a pardon from the governor. Only Maine and Vermont have no restrictions.
Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project, which advocates ending felony disenfranchisement laws, said that in Texas, former Gov. Rick Perry, now the U.S. Secretary of Energy, is partially to blame. In 2007, Perry vetoed a bill that would have required the state to notify felons in writing when they were eligible to vote and include a voter registration form. “It’s the confusion that many states create over whether people have the right to vote … that created the opportunity for this woman’s incarceration,” Porter said. Blair Bowie of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works on election-related issues, 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.