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Texas Attorney General Rules Civilly Committed Sex Offenders Entitled to Vote by Mail Ballot

by Matt Clarke

In May 2017, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled that civilly committed sex offenders have a right to vote by mail ballot. The ruling puts an end to the confusion surrounding the issue, which resulted in all the mail ballots belonging to residents of the Texas Civil Commitment Center for Sexually Violent Predators being discarded for the 2016 presidential election.

Paxton’s ruling is based upon a determination that the residents of the center are disabled for mail ballot purposes. Under state election law, mail ballots may be used for individuals who are disabled, over 65 years of age, or confined to jail but otherwise eligible to vote. The ruling states, “Sexually violent predators have been adjudged by a court to possess a behavioral abnormality, defined as a ‘condition that, by affecting a person’s emotional or volitional capacity, predisposes the person to commit a sexually violent offense, to the extent that the person becomes a menace to the health and safety of another person.’” Consequently, according to the ruling, civilly committed sex offenders are disabled and thus qualify for voting by mail ballot.  

Unfortunately, the victory comes too late for the center’s residents who tried to vote last November. State officials agreed to permit them to vote by mail ballot, but ultimately, local officials decided not to count them and never provided a satisfactory explanation for their decision. Privately, state officials suspect that the decision not to count the ballots violated federal and state law.

The executive director of the center, Marsha McLane, said, “It’s important to me that these guys get to exercise their right to vote…. They have the right to vote, we expect them to vote.” Following the attorney general’s ruling, they now have both the right and mechanism to do just that. 


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