I am writing this letter to the editor to help educate Cooke County residents about voting rights for Texans who have been convicted of a felony.
The common notion that a person convicted of a felony cannot vote is not true. In 1997, then-Gov. George W. Bush signed the law that allows a person who has been convicted of a felony to be able to re-register and to vote. Our state has approximately 500,000 Texans who have lost their right to vote.
The misinformation about voting came to my attention last fall, while going door to door to encourage people to get out and vote. I talked with a number of people who had been convicted of a felony, but who had completed their sentence and believed they could not vote.
These persons had been told they could never vote again, and this simply is not true in Texas. A person convicted of a felony in Texas can restore their voting rights if the person has fully discharged their sentence, including confinement, supervision, probation, parole or pardon. They must only re-register to vote. They were likely taken off the voter rolls when they were convicted, so re-registration is a must. (Of course, the person must meet the other requirements such as being a U.S. citizen, resident of the county, of age, etc.)
The process to register to vote is easy. One need only fill out the application to register to vote and mail it to the county voter registrar. These voter registration forms are postage paid applications that you may pick up at the Cooke County Vehicle Tax and Registration Office at 100 S. Dixon in Gainesville. Alternatively, while a person in Texas cannot register to vote online, the form for registration can be printed off and then mailed in. Go to https://webservices.sos.state.tx.us/vrapp/index.asp. Your voter registration card should arrive in the mail in about 30 days.
Some may question whether allowing convicted felons to re-register to vote is good public policy. The vast majority of the US states do allow a person who has been convicted of a felony to vote. Additionally, Texas criminal law is an imperfect system. There are many crimes which are felonies but that are very similar to misdemeanor crimes. Depending on how the state has decided to classify a crime can make a huge difference in the sentencing. Also, Texas regularly has one of the highest prison populations in the U.S. and the ethnic breakdown is roughly one-third white, one-third black and one-third Latino. Considering that blacks make up only about 12 percent of the Texas population, the number of black people imprisoned in our state is disproportionately high.
Please register to vote! See you at the polls!
Shirley Cawyer, Gainesville