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. The confusion over felons’ voting rights is not limited to Mason’s situation or to Texas. Across the country, 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. And some prohibit convicted felons from voting for the rest of their lives, unless they receive a pardon from the governor.
Nicole Porter with the Sentencing Project, which advocates ending felony disenfranchisement laws, said people with a criminal past are often unsure of their rights. In Texas, she said, former Republican 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, not just in Texas, but all over, that created the opportunity for this woman’s incarceration,” Porter said. “The reality is there are politicians who want to limit voting for everyone, and they target people with a criminal history, mostly black and brown people, and work to take away the franchise.”
… Only two states, Maine and Vermont, have no restrictions.