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According to the Austin-American Statesman, Texas Democratic state representatives are pushing to give voting rights back to felons who are under observation or on parole.

House Bill 1419, if it became law, would be the first update to Texas’ election code regarding felony marginalization since the late 1990’s. According to Texas’ current election code, felons are allowed to vote in Texas only after completing their entire sentence, including any activities deemed necessary after they’re released, including monitoring or parole. Introduced by Representative Celia Israel, House Bill 1419 would restore voting rights back to the reported 84,000 Texas felons who were on parole as of August 31st, 2018.

In 1974 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the case of Richardson v Ramirez to uphold felony voter disenfranchisement, and from there left it up to the states to decided how they wanted to handle voting rights in terms of convicted felons.  

In the United States currently, there are only two states, Maine and Vermont, where felons never lose their right to vote and can even vote while they’re incarcerated, whereas Iowa and Tennessee are the only two states who completely and indefinitely strip all rights to vote from felons once they are convicted. Besides the outliers who exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, there are 22 states, currently including Texas, who allow felons to vote again after the completion of their entire sentence and parole or supervision. If House Bill 1419 is passed into law, Texas would become the 16th state to re-instate felon voter rights immediately after they’re released from confinement.

Reginald Smith, policy analyst for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition told the Austin-American Statesman that re-formed felons are tax-payers, but  several years after they’ve completed their sentencing the law still keeps many of them from voting on the federal, state and local issues that may affect them.

Lewis Conway Jr., a civic awareness supporter for convicted felons’ right to vote and previous runner for Austin City Council, told the Austin-American Statesman that there is also a problem with misinformation spread throughout the prison system about voting rights for felons, and that many inmates believe they can never vote again, with no one to tell them otherwise. Conway told the Austin-American Statesman, “My parole officer-who should be my first line of defense, if you will-he should actually be the last person to tell me. The first line of defense should be the intake. I should know upon being entered into prison that upon exiting I’m able to vote.”

Thank you for visiting the Jarvis, Garcia & Erskine blog, Texas criminal law attorneys. We write to inform Austin locals about felon voting eligibility, law changes, current events and news.