A 62-year-old Texan who waited seven hours to cast a vote while on parole is facing the threat of 40 years in jail for breaking state election laws.
Hervis Earl Rogers from Houston was arrested last week and charged with two counts of illegal voting for casting a ballot in 2018 and again last year while he was still on parole. He is facing 20 years for each incident.
Texas is one of 16 states where felons lose their voting rights while in prison and on parole.
Mr Rogers, who was convicted of burglary in 1989 and 1995, became a national celebrity for waiting seven hours to vote in the Democractic primary after he arrived at the polls shortly before they closed in March 2020.
“It is insane, but it’s worth it,” Mr. Rogers told Houston Public Media at the time.
The case against him has been brought by Ken Paxton, the state’s Republican attorney general and a close ally of Donald Trump.
He was also one of several prominent Republicans who challenged Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election and has been particularly assiduous in pursuing voting cases of alleged voting irregularities.
“Hervis is a felon rightly barred from voting under TX law,” Mr Paxton wrote on Twitter. “I prosecute voter fraud everywhere we find it!”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton bringing case against Earl Rogers
Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP
However, Tommy Buser-Clancy, one of the lawyers representing Mr Rogers, said he believed he was entitled to vote.
“Mr Rogers’s prosecution really shows the danger of overcriminalising the election code and the process of participating in a democratic society,” he told the New York Times.
“In particular, it raises the danger that criminal statutes in the election code are being used to go after individuals who at worst have made an innocent mistake. That’s not what any laws should be doing.”
Texas’ election laws stipulate that a person must knowingly vote illegally to be guilty of a crime.
“He’s facing the possibility of an extremely harsh sentence,” he added.
“Second-degree felonies are normally reserved for aggravated assault, and to apply it to Mr Rogers’s case, it just shows how unjust that is.”
Mr Rogers has been released on $100,000 bail.
His prosecution comes against a backdrop of a swathe of Republican-controlled states bringing in new laws tightening voting requirements.
Supporters of the changes say the move is necessary to protect “voting integrity”.
However, critics argue the legislation is designed to suppress the black vote, which is seen as having swept Mr Biden to victory in several key swing states.
The Sentencing Project, a criminal-justice nonprofit, estimates that 5.2 million Americans remain disenfranchised because of felony convictions, a disproportionate number of them Black.
Changes proposed to voting laws in Texas are among the most restrictive in the US.
Provisions include cutting back voting hours and banning ballot drop boxes and drive-through voting centres.
However, the bill has so far been stalled by Texas Democrats walking out of the legislature, denying the measure the quorum it needs to pass.