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Let's Restore Voting Rights to All People in Prison

February 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Rachel Corey, elly kalfus, AlterNet

We don't revoke prisoners' rights to religion or citizenship. Why should voting be any different?

There is growing energy across the country to re-enfranchise people with criminal records. Just last year, California reinstated voting rights for people on probation and people convicted of felonies who are incarcerated in county jails. Many credit Democrat Doug Jones’ win over Republican Roy Moore last year for Jeff Sessions’ former U.S. Senate seat to a change in Alabama law that re-enfranchised thousands of people with criminal convictions. Most recently, a ballot initiative qualified for the 2018 Florida election that will ask voters to decide whether to amend their state constitution to allow more than 1.5 million of their fellow Floridians with felony criminal records to have their right to vote returned.

People in prison have the most insight into how the criminal justice system works and what needs to change due to their lived experiences; however, their ability to engage in this conversation is extremely limited because they are denied their voice—their vote—in our democracy. We can do better.

The grassroots effort in Florida is led by formerly incarcerated people, and would re-enfranchise people who have completed their sentences for felony offenses—that is, excluding people convicted of sexual offenses and murder. It will need 60% of the vote in November to become law in Florida. This is a huge step, but the voting restoration in Florida doesn't go far enough: activists in states across the country are demanding that all Americans be allowed to have a say in their governance.

A brief primer on criminal disenfranchisement: In the United States, each state sets its own requirements for determining who is eligible to vote in local, state and federal elections. Considering the United States’ history as a white supremacist, patriarchal and classist country, it comes as no surprise that many states’ laws reflect these prejudices in defining the eligible voting populace. While in the past, many states wrote their constitutions to explicitly exclude non-white people (as well as women, poor people, and other marginalized groups) from voting and …read more


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