AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Houston man who received widespread attention after standing six hours in line to cast a ballot in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary was in jail Friday on charges that it was illegal for him to vote at all because he was on parole.
Hervis Rogers became an overnight face of Texas' battle over voting access when he emerged from a polling center at a historically Black college around 1:30 a.m. He was among Houston voters on Super Tuesday who waited more than an hour — and some for several hours — in mostly minority, Democratic neighborhoods. Lines in mostly white, Republican neighborhoods were shorter.
“The way it was set up, it was like it was set up for me to walk away,” Rogers told reporters in comments carried by multiple news outlets, including The Associated Press.
He was arrested this week on two counts of illegal voting, a second-degree felony that carries a possible sentence of two to 20 years in prison. His bail was set at $100,000.
Rogers, 62, voted last March while still on parole from a felony burglary conviction, making him ineligible to cast a ballot under Texas law. Andre Segura, an attorney for the ACLU of Texas who is representing Rogers, said his client did not know he was ineligible to vote. He drew comparisons to Crystal Mason, a Fort Worth woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot while on probation in 2016, who also said she was unaware she could not.
“Mr. Rogers made headlines after waiting hours for what he thought was his civic duty, and was very proud of that," Segura said. "We shouldn't be prosecuting people for innocent mistakes.”
The rare arrest on illegal voting allegations comes as Texas Republicans begin a second attempt at passing many of the same restrictive voting measures blocked by Democrats during a dramatic late-night walkout in May. Texas is the biggest state where Republicans have vowed to make voting changes since Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud cost him the 2020 election.
Courts records show Rogers is being prosecuted by the office of Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has zealously pursued election fraud cases and last year took a failed attempt to overturn President Joe Biden's victory to the U.S. Supreme Court. His spokesman did not immediately respond to a message about Roger's indictment.
In March 2020, Rogers said he was among the last people allowed in line before polls closed at 7 p.m. at Texas Southern University. Photos of voters waiting in long lines on the Houston campus appeared on news websites and ricocheted around social media. Rogers said he considered leaving but told reporters that “every vote counts.”
Elections officials in Houston blamed the long lines on the local Republican Party’s refusal to hold a joint primary with the Democrats. GOP leaders accused the county of trying to shift the blame, saying county officials who allocated both parties an equal number of voting machines disregarded warnings about turnout for the hotly contested Democratic presidential primary.
As soon as Saturday, Texas Republicans could begin advancing their revived election bills at the state Capitol. One provision would require courts to explain to defendants how a felony convictions impacts their right to vote, a change Democratic state Rep. John Bucy has pushed in the aftermath of Mason's sentence.
“Intent is vital,” Bucy said. “We've got to really keep pushing back on these bills, because a lot of what they're trying to do could criminalize mistakes."