Over half a million Texan citizens will be unable to vote due to a felony conviction. Over 165,000 of those disfranchised Texans are black,” said Laleh Ispahani, Senior Policy Counsel with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “Disfranchisement runs contrary to fundamental precepts of democracy, human rights, and of giving people a second chance, a chance at true rehabilitation.”Half a million people stripped of the vote is a lot of folks! However, I felt compelled to defend our beloved state, somewhat, on this point, replying in the comments that:
Texas has a good re-enfranchisement law compared to many states. Felons can vote again as soon as they're off paper, i.e., when they've completed either their sentence, parole, or their probation term. Quite a few other states ban for years afterward or even for life.However, that doesn't mean we couldn't do better. Governor Perry vetoed legislation that would have given ex-offenders notification and a voter registration card when they became eligible to vote. (Offenders already get a packet of information from TDCJ when they get "off paper," and the bill would have included notice of voting eligibility and a voter registration card in the packet.)
The reason we have half a million ineligible is we have ten year probation terms, so that's basically how many probationers and parolees are out there. But one in 11 Texans has a felony record, and the vast majority of them are eligible to vote.
That insensible decision, IMO, was made purely out of political calculation, hoping to reduce the number of (supposed) new Democratic voters at the margins. However, from a public safety standpoint it makes little sense to discourage voting at all. If it's intended as punishment, it's a poor one; half of Americans don't vote even when they're allowed to, so it's not like you're taking anything from them that affects their daily lives.
Felons should be allowed to vote IMO even when they're on probation and parole, and it wouldn't bother me if mail ballots were cast from prison. (That happens right now only in Maine and Vermont. Probationers and parolees can vote in 13 additional states.) I don't see the logic of implementing a punishment that requires offenders to behave anti-socially.
I don't support re-enfranchisement because I think prisoners would vote for one or the other party, but because the act of voting requires public engagement. You must a) care about the activities of government and b) educate yourself about the candidates and issues in order to cast a ballot, and that process itself I believe has rehabilitative effects. Simply caring about something other than yourself - even if it's an election - might be a learning experience for many whose narcissism, bad decisions and immature behavior have already dug them into deep legal holes.
We're talking about a lot of people here: Roughly one in 20 Texas adults are incarcerated, on probation or parole. And they all have to live with the government we elect just like everybody else.
(See a state by state guide on disenfranchisement laws.)