On today, Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr. (D- Houston) argued that denying a person’s right to vote is one of the most egregious acts upon Americans most precious civil liberties right to vote. While immense progress has been accomplished over the years to expand the right to vote, so much remains to be done. The Elections Committee considered Dutton’s HB – 370, which would allow a county jail with a population of 3.3 million or more, to serve as a polling place to allow eligible inmates who have not been convicted of a federal offense to register on Election Day and vote on the same day.
Rep. Dutton stated “Prohibiting an eligible inmate their right to vote is putting the very foundation of our democracy at risk by erecting new barriers to the polls, and restricting voter registration efforts”.
Currently, Texas law provides that an inmate is eligible and entitled the right to vote even if they are in a confinement of a jail for offenses other than a conviction of a federal offense. Inthe Harris County jail, the population averages 8000 inmates, with 7000 of those inmates eligible to vote due to age, citizenship, and the lack of a felony conviction. However, the turnover rate is 85 percent, resulting in inmates gone by the 30 day deadline prior to Election Day.
Rep. Dutton further stated that “The State of Texas should not be allowed to play politics with the voter registration process, the key entry point for political participation in our democracy. While many people in jail have the opportunity to vote, they are prohibited due to being confined in a county jail. None of the systems in place give them a reasonable opportunity to vote, even though they are eligible under Texas law.
HB – 370 is currently pending in the House Elections Committee. If Texans believe, as I do, that we should continue the progress of protecting and fighting for our most valuable civil liberties, please contact your legislator and ask them to support the passage of HB – 370.