Many people believe that the right to vote is a fundamental aspect of the American Constitution however, the right to vote has not always been a god-given right. In fact, in the early days of the United States, the right to vote was contingent upon being white, male, and owning properties. At a state level, there were situations where it was a requirement that each person is a Christian.
Regulations began to change at the beginning of the 1800s whereby individuals who did not own property could vote and after the Civil War, that right was extended to people who were not white. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the right to vote was extended to women.
But what happens in situations where you or someone you love is convicted of a crime? There are certain crimes that can rescind your right to vote. In the state of Texas being convicted of a felony and serving time in prison does away with your right to vote, but it doesn’t do away with it permanently.
Registering to Vote
Today, anyone over the age of 18 can register to vote if they are a legal citizen of the United States and mentally competent. The law stipulates that qualifying individuals can submit their voter registration in the county and state where they currently live and change that voter registration at any time should they move.
There are many restrictions when it comes to individual states’ rights and what determines whether an individual can vote at the state level when individuals are convicted of crimes especially felonies.
Whether you are a convicted felon or you have someone close to you who is, the answer to can convicted felons vote in Texas is “yes”, so long as you meet a few requirements.
Texas felon voting rights
Texas is one of the many states that allow felons to vote once they have completed their sentence. The Supreme Court recently voted in Richardson v. Ramirez that states preventing felons from voting after their sentences have been served did not violate the 14th Amendment. There are in fact no federal laws that determine the ability to vote. Instead, felony disenfranchisement laws fall to the individual states.
Every state is different. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a summary of restoration rights for each state.
The state of Maine for example, allows felons to keep their voting rights even while they are serving their sentence. States like Alabama and Mississippi permanently bar certain individuals from voting depending on the severity of their felonious conviction. In situations where individuals are permanently banned from voting it is often because they have committed murder.
In 14 states, if you are a felon and you complete your prison sentence, your voting rights are restored as soon as you are released. In 22 states including Texas, you have to wait until all aspects of your sentence are completed before you can reinstate your voting rights, and this usually includes probation or parole. In some of these situations, there is a specific time frame that has to be fulfilled such as one or two years after being released from prison before you can reinstate your voting rights.
Can you vote if you have a felony in Texas?
Under Texas state law, specifically the felony disenfranchisement laws, you can vote if you have a felony conviction in Texas. The U.S. Probation Office for Texas makes it clear that voting rights are restored to felons in the state of Texas since 1997.
To that end, after a felon has been fully discharged and completed all terms of their sentence according to Texas Election Code 11.002 they qualify to vote. The caveats are that the individual in question must meet the minimum federal requirements as laid out by the Supreme Court which include:
- Being a US citizen
- Being 18 years of age
- Being mentally competent
The Texas Secretary of State office reviews information from the Department of Public Safety pertaining to all citizens of Texas who have been convicted of a felony and released from prison having successfully completed their prison sentence on a weekly basis. They can be contacted if eligibility has not been reinstated but should be.
Finding Your Eligibility
Any Texas resident can use the Campaign Legal Center to check the status of their voting rights. This site works hard to help the 18 million Americans who have prior convictions and are eligible to vote but don’t realize they can. This website provides Anonymous information based on the state in which you vote and let you know what your eligibility is and how to start the process if you are currently eligible.
Felons voting in Texas after serving their time is not a Texas-specific opportunity. In fact, almost all states restore the right to vote to their citizens after a sentence has been completed.
Restoring a felon vote in the state of Texas
In the state of Texas there are ways that ex-felons can restore their right to vote. According to Texas state law, once you have fully completed your sentencing requirements for your felony conviction you are considered fully discharged. At that point, there are a few circumstances under which you can restore your right to vote.
- First, you must complete the entirety of your prison sentence including parole and any probationary period that follows.
- Second, you must pay any fines or other restitution that was part of your punishment.
- Thirdly, you can also receive a pardon from the governor which will restore your right to vote.
You are allowed to register to vote once you have met all of these requirements or, if only one of these situations applies to you, once you have met that one situation. When you go to re-register you may have to provide proof that you are in compliance with all of the sentencing requirements and this could potentially be very difficult to navigate and require a few different attempts before your voting rights are actually restored.
Hire an Attorney
If you are dealing with issues of restoring your right to vote and you have fulfilled the requirements, you might consider working with a qualified attorney. An attorney can help you determine whether you are eligible, walk you through the steps required to reinstate your voting rights, and ensure you know how to register to vote for the next election. Working with an attorney can provide legal insight into how you can, for example, get proof of your compliance with your recent sentencing or where you can go to figure out what your current voting status is.
The right to vote can change depending on any criminal activity but in the state of Texas, you can enjoy the right to vote once your sentence has been fully completed. This is different for every individual, some of whom have lengthy parole sentences or multiple years of probation before their sentence is considered complete, others of them have hefty fines to pay off before their sentence is considered complete. Using multiple State resources anyone who has served their time can determine their eligibility and work toward reinstating their right to vote even after a felony conviction.