Amid Voter Suppression Push, Texas To Prosecute Man Celebrated For Waiting In Long Line

2021-07-11 15:19:42

On Wednesday, Texas police arrested and charged Hervis Rogers, a 62-year-old Black man whose story of endurance despite voter suppression efforts went viral during the 2020 presidential primaries.

Rogers faces two felony counts of illegal voting for casting ballots before he’d fully completed his parole for a previous crime, scheduled to end June 13, 2020. Texas election code says people who receive felony convictions can vote only after they have completed their sentence, including parole. The law says if someone knowingly votes illegally, they can be found guilty of a crime. 

Rogers gained notoriety last March when he was the last person to cast a ballot at a Texas precinct where he’d waited seven hours. Rogers was widely celebrated for his commitment to voting despite ongoing racism embedded in Texas’ elections, in which officials routinely overburden and under-resource precincts serving Black communities.

After his arrest last week, Rogers’ attorney Andre Segura said Rogers was unaware he was ineligible to vote and his prosecution should raise concerns. 

“The arrest and prosecution of Mr. Rogers should alarm all Texans,” said Segura, a lawyer with the Texas ACLU branch. “He faces potentially decades in jail. Our laws should not intimidate people from voting by increasing the risk of prosecution for, at worst, innocent mistakes. We will continue to fight for justice for Mr. Rogers and will push back against efforts to further restrict voting rights.”

In 2007, then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that would have required law enforcement officials to notify people charged with crimes when they became eligible to vote. 

Members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus take part in a voting rights rally outside the Texas State Capitol on the first day of the 87th Legislature’s special session on July 8, 2021, in Austin. 

Rogers’ arrest harks back to the case of Crystal Mason, a Black Texan who was arrested after the 2016 election during which she cast a provisional ballot while she was ineligible to vote. The now-46-year-old woman said she was unaware of her ineligibility. Her appeal of the case is pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Rogers was being held in jail on $100,000 bond until receiving bail assistance from The Bail Project, a nonprofit organization that provides support to people charged with crimes who earn low incomes.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is currently under investigation by the Texas State Bar for filing an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election, posted a tweet announcing his office would prosecute Rogers. Paxton remains one of the most prominent figures to back Donald Trump’s claims that widespread voter fraud in Black and brown communities cost Trump the 2020 election. In fact, there is no evidence voter fraud was a factor in the race, which Trump lost to Joe Biden. 

Still, inspired by Trump’s claims, conservatives across the country have worked more feverishly than usual to restrict ballot access ahead of the 2022 elections. Texas Republicans are hoping to enact some of the most restrictive voting measures in the country out of the hundreds that have been introduced since November.

On Thursday, one day after Rogers was arrested, Texas Republicans began a special session to push their voter suppression package, which includes strict, new identification requirements for voting by mail; a ban on 24-hour and drive-thru voting; a ban preventing officials from sending unrequested absentee ballots; and expanded protections for partisan poll watchers to surveil citizens. On Sunday, Republicans successfully advanced one part of the package, House Bill 3, out of committee on a party-line vote. 

In Texas, there is a long history of violent voter suppression by poll watchers, and thus, rising concern about vigilantes being empowered to act on anti-democratic rhetoric concerning who should be allowed to vote.

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