This may be too little, too late for many, but perhaps it will be of use to people in the future, if not in this election cycle.
It’s commonly believed that all incarcerated people and all ex-felons lose their voting rights. This belief holds true even among the formerly incarcerated, elected officials, and elections clerks in states where those with past felony convictions are allowed to vote.
I once worked for a group that was active in 7 states working with incarcerated people, their families and loved ones to stop new prison building and win progressive reforms of state prisons. Among our many projects was one aimed at informing ex-offenders of their voting rights in those states where voting rights are restored post-release or post-parole.
In order to gauge how widespread the mistaken belief that those with past felony convictions always lose their voting rights is, we worked with a local group in Montana to survey elections and prison officials and elected representatives about the law. What we learned shocked us. Many, in some case most, were certain that those with past felony convictions could not vote or just didn’t know one way or another. This became the basis of a campaign to force Montana to conducted training and education of officials and to include a review of voting rights at the point when formerly incarcerated people are released to the community.
With that in mind, and a bit late in the year, here is a resource that folks may find useful. Ex-offenders can often vote. Even in conservative states like Wyoming, a contortionist act involving a five year waiting period and an application process will win you back your voting rights. It’s a struggle, but consider this: when the reform in the law that made the return of voting rights a possibility earlier this century, 28% of black men in Wyoming had permanently lost their voting rights.
Perhaps more useful to some is the fact that in Vermont and Maine, those who are incarcerated never lose their voting rights and can vote absentee while in prison. And in New Hampshire, where you can register up to election day, and North Dakota where no registration is necessary, those with past convictions can vote. Even if they attempt to turn you away, don’t let them. Many elections officials don’t know the law. You have a chance to educate them.
While the problem of disenfranchisement of those with past convictions continues to be a crisis of democracy in this country, where those with past convictions can vote we should do whatever we can to make sure everyone understands their rights, from the voter to the elections officials to those making the laws.