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A Short Note on Ex-Felon Voting Rights

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.

Scot Nakagawa

By Scot Nakagawa

Scot is a community organizer, activist, cultural worker, and political writer. He has spent the last four decades exploring questions of racial injustice and racial formation and effective forms of resistance and strategies for change through community campaigns, cultural organizing, popular education, writing, and direct political advocacy.

Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against vigilante white supremacist groups, white nationalism, Nativism, and authoritarian evangelical political movements. In this work, he has served as a strategist, organizer, and social movement analyst. Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow and the Association of Asian American Studies 2017 Community Leader. He is busy at work on a number of projects, including writing a playbook for anti-fascists, and a primer on race and power. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition; Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence; and Eyes Right!: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash.

One reply on “A Short Note on Ex-Felon Voting Rights”

Good information is always on time. One look at the “complexion” of the U.S. felon population could speak volumes to us all regarding why many either maintain, or feign, ignorance as to felons and the franchise. And let’s face it: few, if any, politicians number ex-cons among the more desirable demographics. “Felons/Ex-Felons for Romney” just doesn’t have the same “ring” as “Working Moms for Romney.” Hopefully, as your messsage spreads, we will learn to harness the power of this “new” demographic.

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