Crystal Mason of Tarrant County, Tex., was arrested on a charge of illegally attempting to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Mason said she didn’t know she was ineligible to vote, but she was still sentenced to five years in prison. Her case, now on appeal, is drawing national attention to the inconsistency in felon voting laws around the U.S., The Dallas Morning News reports. In Texas, felons get their right to vote back after completing their full sentence, which includes time behind bars but also probation, parole and supervised release. Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-TX) introduced the Democracy Restoration Act last month to restore voting rights in federal elections to all released felons regardless of parole or probation status, and regardless of state laws. Versions of the measure have been filed since 2008 but never made it to the president’s desk. The Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights for released felons in federal elections only.
Mason’s appeal hinges on whether prosecutors can prove she was aware she wasn’t legally allowed to vote. In 2022, over 4.5 million U.S. citizens could not vote as a result of a felony conviction, Crockett said. Experts say this includes a disproportionate number of people of color. Texas is one of 13 states that restore felons’ voting rights after they serve their time, including parole and probation. In 12 states, convicted felons can lose their right to vote permanently unless their voting rights are restored by their state governor or a judge, depending on the state. In 22 states, voting rights are automatically restored for felons after release from prison, even if they’re on parole or probation. Rules vary in the other three states.