Felony Disenfranchisement

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New Report: State Disenfranchisement Reform Restores Right to More than 760,000


The Sentencing Project today released a report, Expanding the Vote: State Felony Disenfranchisement Reform, 1997- 2008, that documents a reform movement over the past eleven years that has resulted in more than 760,000 citizens having regained their right to vote. The report found that since 1997, 19 states have amended felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. The report's release coincides with the introduction of new legislation in Congress to secure federal voting rights for nonincarcerated citizens.

The report finds:  

  • Nine states either repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws.
  • Two states expanded voting rights to persons under community supervision (probation and parole).
  • Five states eased the restoration process for persons seeking to have their right to vote restored after completing sentence.
  • Three states improved data and information sharing.

The report documents the rates of disenfranchisement and the racially disparate impact of felony disenfranchisement policy in the 19 states that have enacted reforms.  It also highlights the profound personal impact that this policy has had on those who have regained their voting rights, or continue to be disenfranchised. 

Recent state reforms include:

  • Maryland repealed its post-sentence voting ban in 2007, restoring the right to vote to 52,000 residents.
  • Florida eased the complexity of its restoration process for persons who have completed a sentence for a non-violent offense.
  • Governors in Kentucky and Virginia expressed support for voting rights for persons who completed sentence by easing the restoration process and expediting restoration applications, respectively.
  • North Carolina and Louisiana passed notification bills mandating that the state notify individuals of the law regarding voting rights and the process of registration.
Despite these reforms, an estimated 5 million people will continue to be ineligible to vote in November's Presidential election, including nearly 4 million who reside in the 35 states that still prohibit some combination of persons on probation, parole, and/or people who have completed their sentence from voting. In response to this fact, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) plans to introduce the Democracy Restoration Act and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) plans to introduce the Civic Participation and Rehabilitation Act this week to restore federal voting rights to all citizens released from prison and living in the community.
                                                         -The Sentencing Project

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 9/19/08

Alabama: Inmate Voter Registration Efforts Halted Under pressure from the Alabama Republican Party, the efforts led by Rev. Kenneth Glasgow to register inmates so they could cast absentee ballots have been halted, the Associated Press reported. An email from State Rep. Mike Hubbard, chairman of the Republican party, told Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen that the party supports the idea of registering people to vote, but not those who are incarcerated. The letter was received after the Associated Press and other media highlighted Glasgow's success in registering 80 inmates in two days with goals to register "hundreds more" before the deadline. "I think they're more worried about me being a Democrat than anything," said Glasgow. "The chairman of the Republican Party and the chairman of the Democratic Party can go in there with me and monitor it to make sure it's nonpartisan." Alabama law prohibits felons convicted of "crimes of moral turpitude" from voting unless they have had their rights restored. Though the Constitution does not define a crime of moral turpitude, court opinions have recently said they include murder, robbery, rape, and certain other offenses. "A clear legal definition would not stop the debate, but it would at least clear up a few gray areas," a Clanton Advertiser editorial stated. Another editorial published in the Anniston Star in support of vote restoration stated, "It only makes sense for states to implement programs that will help released felons become productive, lawful residents who steer clear of the very activities that put them behind bars in the first place." A Times Daily editorial on the issue opposed Glasgow's efforts to register inmates. "Time in prison means a loss of personal freedoms and all but the basic right to humane treatment. Allowing inmates to vote is simply anathema to serving time for committing a crime. But allowing felons to vote inside prison walls contradicts the very nature of being punished for a crime." For more coverage, see the Montgomery Advertiser and CBS42. National: Disenfranchisement Gets National Attention, Gains Momentum Several states are successfully making moves to restore voting rights to individuals with felony records, with the backing of policy makers, state officials and grassroots advocates, according to a New York Times news feature. The article cited the line between bipartisan registration efforts and campaign tactics in gaining votes, in addition to the varying and confusing disenfranchisement laws of each state. Reggie Mitchell, a former voter-registration worker for People for the American Way stated, "You're talking about incredible numbers of people out there who now may have had their right to vote restored and don't even know it. In Florida, "we're talking tens of thousands of people. And in the 2000 election, in the state of Florida, 300 people made the difference." Mississippi: Lawsuit Demands Right to Vote The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Mississippi filed a federal lawsuit last week challenging the state's denial of voting rights to citizens with felony convictions. The Mississippi Constitution allows individuals with felony offenses to vote for president and vice president, but "election administrators are denying that right in practice," the Hudson Valley Press reported. The suit asks that citizens with felony records be allowed to register to vote by the October deadline. "With the presidential election less than two months away, Mississippi is denying thousands of citizens their fundamental right to vote," said Nancy Abudu, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "By refusing to allow eligible citizens to register and vote for the highest offices in the land, Mississippi election officials are undermining the integrity of the state's election system and degrading our country's democratic principles. We will not sit back and let election supervisors continue to violate state and federal law." According to Mississippi's constitution, people with certain felony convictions are allowed to vote for president and vice president, but not for other political offices. But because the state's voter registration application does not allow all prospective voters to register for presidential and vice presidential elections only, many voters are wrongly disqualified. The ACLU is representing Jerry Young and Christy Colley, two Mississippi residents who have been convicted of felonies in the past and cannot vote due to the flawed administration of the state's election laws. Kristy Bennett, one of the ACLU staff attorneys wrote a commentary on the suit in the Jackson Free Press. "It is obvious that the framers of our state Constitution recognized the importance of allowing all citizens to vote for the leaders of this country, and we must continue to fight for this fundamental right today," she wrote. "Mississippi election officials are undermining the integrity of the state's election system and degrading our country's democratic principles. By filing the lawsuit, we hope that all Mississippians with felony convictions will have the opportunity to register to vote." For additional coverage, see WLBT3. South Carolina: Elections Officials in Need of More Training Local election officials didn't make the grade on a voting restoration survey put out by the American Civil Liberties Union, WYFF reported. The officials didn't know all the details about when individuals with felony offenses regain their right to vote in South Carolina. The ACLU and South Carolina Progressive Network released the results of their statewide survey and called for changes in state voting laws, more education and notification of vote restoration. Currently, state law allows individuals to vote once they have served their sentence, including probation and parole. Survey questions included whether people with misdemeanor convictions and those with out-of-state felony convictions could vote; 48 percent of officials state-wide answered incorrectly, according to a State article titled, "Ex-felons voting rights' questions fool officials." "The history in South Carolina is preventing people from voting, and we're still living that history," said Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network. "The people on the streets don't understand (the rules), and if they go to their election commission, they're going to get this kind of wrong information." Survey questions were asked of whoever answered the phone at the election commissions, to simulate the experience of regular callers, said Rachel Bloom of the ACLU. For more coverage, see The Post Courier Oklahoma: Election Board Passing on Faulty Information, ACLU Survey Documents An ACLU survey of election boards in Oklahoma's 77 counties found that 17 counties provided erroneous information on the state's re-enfranchisement policies. One county said a convicted felon was never eligible to vote again, the Associated Press reported. In actuality, individuals with felony convictions may vote once they have completed their sentence. State Rep. Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City plans to file a notification bill requiring the state to inform those of their rights upon release. Tennessee: Excitement About Election, Elections Officials See Registration Increase The Tennessee Coordinator of Elections reported a significant increase in the number of individuals with felony records seeking to have their rights restored, according to the Tri-State Defender. The process for Clifton Ingram included completing a Certificate of Restoration form at a County Election Commission, taking it to the Probation and Parole office to get required signatures and returning it to the Election Commission for verification. "I did what they told me to do," said Ingram, who had been putting off the vote restoration process after receiving probation for a nonviolent offense in 2006. In the past, vote restoration required a lawyer and going to court if one was sentenced before Jan. 15, 1973 or after May 18, 1981. (Individuals convicted of a felony between Jan. 15, 1973 and May 17, 1981 never lost their voting rights in Tennessee.) Today, however, individuals must also be current in child support obligations. Florida: Statewide Ad Campaign Targets Individuals with Felony Offenses ''Our nation's future is at stake. Your voice shouldn't be silenced by your past,' states campaign ads pushed by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. The organizations launched a voter registration campaign this week targeting individuals with felony convictions whose rights have been restored. The ads are displayed in minority communities across the state in English and Spanish, the Miami Herald reported. According to CBS4, the groups have also published an online database displaying the civil rights status of those with felony convictions at www.restorerights.org. Smaller, grassroots efforts are also helping eligible individuals register to vote before the Oct. 6 deadline, including the Marion County Voters Registration Coalition which is holding a workshop Saturday. Volunteers will also be on hand to help fill out paperwork and find out what requirements must be satisfied before individuals register to vote, according to the Star Banner. "People around the country have the mistaken impression that Florida's felon disfranchisement crisis has been adequately addressed by Governor [Charlie] Crist; sadly this is not true," Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida, was quoted as saying about the the governor's recent restoration efforts in the Foster Folly News. "The State had no real program to notify people of their eligibility and consequently few have registered to vote. That is why we have had to step in and launch a program that should have been conducted by Florida officials last year." Virginia: Increase in Vote Restoration According to the Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has restored rights for 2,305 individuals with non-violent offenses from the time he took office on Jan. 1, 2006, through the end of last month, the Daily Press reported. That is more than a 32 percent increase from the 1,736 nonviolent felons who had their rights restored from Jan. 1, 2002, through Aug. 31, 2004, leading up to the 2004 presidential race, the secretary said. The increase is attributed to the numerous organizations and churches that have taken to residents' homes and educated citizens with felony convictions about the pardon process in an effort to regain their right to vote. In Virginia, a nonviolent offender must wait three years after the expiration of his or her probation before applying to have rights restored. Those charged with a violent offense must wait five years. All fines and court restitution must also be paid. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

On Election Day, Whose Voices Are Heard?

Election 2008

Dear friends,

On Election Day, people across the country will miss out on casting a ballot because they don't even know they're eligible to vote. Right now in Alabama, we're working to repair the democratic process with a groundbreaking voter registration project being conducted in partnership with The Ordinary People's Society (TOPS), an Alabama organization.

The Alabama Constitution protects the right to vote for people convicted of nonviolent, low-level drug crimes but most of the 70,000 people in the Alabama criminal justice system who fall into this category have never been told they can vote. Even when they do know they're eligible, they have no easy access to the ballot box -- and as many as 10,000 eligible voters are currently incarcerated in Alabama's overcrowded prisons.

TOPS is going into prisons to register voters this fall, working to remedy this egregious example of how the war on drugs undermines our democracy. But Alabama is just one example among many.
More than five million people nationwide are disfranchised for all kinds of offenses, with nonviolent drug convictions making up a significant portion of that group. In some states, anyone with a felony conviction is barred from ever voting again -- even once their debt to society is fully paid. In many other states, the process of restoring your right to vote after a felony conviction is so wrapped in red tape that even the most determined would-be voter gets stuck.

Not only that, but widespread misconceptions keep eligible potential voters from ever even trying to register. For example, in New York state, a survey conducted by a voting rights organization found that many county registrars in New York believed that people who had been arrested -- not convicted, just arrested -- could not vote. Among arrestees themselves, an even greater percentage believed the same thing!

The historic work DPA and TOPS are doing in Alabama paves the way to address larger questions about the intersection between voting rights and the criminal justice system. One of these questions takes on particular relevance given the close results of recent elections: Nationally, how many potential votes are lost because of draconian penalties for nonviolent drug offenses?

As we begin this conversation nationwide, I am excited to be part of our Alabama effort in advance of a presidential election that is projected to have very high voter turnout. We have a long way to go to restore democracy to our criminal justice system but I am proud that Alabamians who didn't even know they could vote will be part of the large numbers of Americans who cast a ballot this Election Day. You can join us by supporting this historic work with a donation to DPA Network.



Gabriel Sayegh
Director, State Organizing and Policy Project
Drug Policy Alliance Network

Advocates Launch Historic Drive to Register Eligible Alabama Voters, Including Those Convicted of Felony Drug Possession

Press Advisory Contact: Rev. Ken Glasgow at 334-791-2433 or Gabriel Sayegh at 646-335-2264 September 12, 2008 Advocates Launch Historic Drive to Register Eligible Alabama Voters, Including Those Convicted of Felony Drug Possession Families, Formerly Incarcerated People, Religious Leaders, Treatment and Sentencing Experts Declare: Don't Criminalize People with Drug Problems, Provide Treatment and Restoration Voter Drive to Include Town Hall Events In Five Cities Across Alabama: "Voter Disfranchisement and The War On Drugs: What's Civil Right's Got to Do With It?" In Alabama, nearly 250,000 people have been stripped their voting rights due to a felony conviction. But in a 2006 court ruling in Alabama, a judge found that only those persons convicted of felonies of "moral turpitude" lose their right to vote. The judge found that certain felonies—such as drug possession—do not constitute crimes of moral turpitude, and therefore individuals convicted of those crimes do not lose their right to vote, even during incarceration. Alabama-based The Ordinary People's Society and their national partner the Drug Policy Alliance estimate that over 50,000 people convicted of non-moral turpitude felonies in Alabama have been wrongly denied their right to vote, or believe they do not have that right due to a conviction. An additional 6 – 7,000 more people currently incarcerated in Alabama state prisons may also be eligible to vote. Join Dothan-based The Ordinary People's Society and their national partner the Drug Policy Alliance on their statewide tour to discuss Alabama's drug war and its impact on democracy. What: "Voter Disfranchisement and the War On Drugs: What's Civil Right's Got to Do With It?" When: 9/15 – 9/19. Each event begins at 6 p.m . Where: 9/15 in Huntsville 9/16 in Birmingham 9/17 in Mobile 9/18 in Dothan 9/19 in Montgomery Each event begins at 6 p.m. Call for event locations. Who: Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, Founder and Executive Director, The Ordinary People's Society (TOPS) (Dothan, AL) Daris Johnson, Director, TOPS Young People's Project (Enterprise, AL) Gabriel Sayegh, Director, Organizing and Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance (New York, NY) Alabama is facing a crisis. The state has the 6th highest rate of incarceration in the U.S. A prison system designed for 12,500 people now holds nearly 30,000. As a result of the drug war, non-violent drug offenses make up approximately 30% of all felony convictions in Alabama, and people convicted of non-violent drug and property offenses comprise nearly half of the state's prison population. Nearly 50% of prisoners are serving prison time for a drug related crime. And over 250,000 people are barred from voting due to felony disfranchisement laws. A recent court ruling, however, found that people convicted of drug possession, among other offenses, do not lose their right to vote. This change could have an impact on nearly 70,000 Alabamians, including nearly 10,000 currently incarcerated in state prisons. While drug use is equal across all racial groups, Black people are incarcerated for drug crimes at higher rates than whites. Blacks make up only 26% of Alabama's population, but are nearly 60% of the prison population. And nearly every For every white person in an Alabama jail, there are about 4 Black people. Alabama is spending millions to incarcerated people when treatment is more effective and far cheaper. The average cost to keep a person in prison in Alabama is almost $13,000 per year. The average cost of a full treatment program per client is approximately $4,300. Over time, the savings from treatment are significant: Studies by the RAND Corporation have show that every additional dollar invested in substance abuse treatment saves taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs. "We've got to start restoring people's lives, by providing treatment, by restoring the right to vote," said Reverend Kenneth Glasgow, Executive Director of The Ordinary People's Society and state coordinator of the New Bottom Line Campaign. "When a person get's a felony conviction, they can lose more than their voting rights, they can lose public assistance, public housing, financial aid for school. The drug war became a war on people and we spend more on incarceration than on treatment. Why do we spend more on producing criminals than producing citizens? We need a new bottom line." In 2005, according to the Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, the substance abuse statistics for the state of Alabama stated: Alcohol • 246,000 people had alcohol dependency • Total admissions for alcohol rehabilitation and treatment was 2,427 • Less than 1% (actually.009%) of Alabamians received treatment for alcohol Other Drug Abuse • 113,000 people had drug dependency other than alcohol • Total admissions for drug rehabilitation and treatment was 12,645 • 11% of those needing treatment were provided with treatment
United States

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 9/12/08

New York: Voting Rights Education Hits the Road The New York Civil Liberties Union this week launched a six-week campaign to educate county election boards and formerly incarcerated individuals on voting rights for those with felony offenses. New York City and Buffalo trains and buses have donned print ads which state: "You have the right to vote ... even if you have a criminal record." Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union said, "There is a mistaken belief that those with criminal records permanently lose their right to vote. As a result, thousands of New Yorkers are either unnecessarily forfeiting their rights or being unlawfully denied their right to vote." State law bans those incarcerated and on parole from voting, but individuals can vote while on probation. The organization is also active in supporting a bill that would require the state to notify former inmates of their voting status. The bill would provide eligible voters assistance with registration and absentee ballots. It would also require the state Department of Correctional Services to share data with the state Board of Elections to prevent eligible voters with felony convictions from being turned away at voting booths, according to the Press & Sun Bulletin. North Carolina: Campaigning off the Beaten Path Democratic Party campaign supporters have taken to jails to educate inmates on their right to vote, the Durham Herald Sun reported. One delegate went to Durham County Jail in an effort to let inmates with misdemeanors know that they could still register and vote by absentee ballot. The city's mayor, Bill Bell, stated he'd follow through on a request to ask the Durham County Sheriff to ensure inmates could register and send in absentee ballots. Individuals with felony offenses in North Carolina are banned from voting until they've completed their sentence. Nevada: Automatically Eligible, but You Have to Know the Rules Individuals with felony convictions in Nevada have been subject to varying restoration procedures over time, according to Public News Service. The problem is that many individuals don't realize that there are mechanisms by which they can be eligible to vote. Under a 2003 state law, individuals who have completed their sentence for a first-time, non-violent offense are eligible to register to vote. "We're really hoping that we'll get a lot of people involved in this because it's just so important that people participate in civic engagement; it reduces their chances of re-offending, it makes them feel like they are part of the community again, and I think that's just really important in a democracy," said Meredith McGhan, voter restoration advocate for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Tennessee: NAACP Offers Restoration Assistance NAACP Memphis Chapter is offering assistance to residents seeking voting rights restoration, ABC 24 reported. "I think in order to be a United States citizen, it's important to exercise the right to vote. I think it's critically important, and that's why we fight for individuals who have made mistakes and paid for them," said Van Turner, an attorney volunteering with the organization. Tennessee law stipulates that most individuals can vote after they've completed their sentence. Individuals convicted of murder, aggravated rape, treason, or voter fraud after July 1, 1986 are permanently banned from voting. For more information, call 901.521.1343. Virginia: Voting Rights Restoration Forum Planned Norfolk State University's Thurgood Marshall Pre-law Club of the Political Science Department is hosting a restoration of voting rights forum September 24 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The convening will include assistance with voting rights applications. Virginia permanently disenfranchises individuals with felony offenses. For more information, call 713.582.1316 or visit www.missingvoter.org. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 9/04/08

Florida: Executive Order Aimed to Speed Up Process Gov. Charlie Crist implemented an executive order last week in an effort to speed up the process for persons with non-violent felony offenses to regain voting rights, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The order will: - Require a voter-registration application be included in every Restoration of Civil Rights Certificate mailed from the Parole Commission; - Make accessible a redesigned Florida Parole Commission Web site allowing individuals to locate and print their restoration certificate; and - Provide on the Web site a direct link to the Division of Elections' voter-registration Web site. "I believe that government should explore every opportunity to ease the notification process and provide as much information about restoration of civil rights," Crist said in a statement. "The changes made today will allow ex-offenders to immediately register to vote and participate in the democratic process." In an editorial, the Orlando Sentinel stated that the executive order was "impressive," but added that Gov. Crist "could do better." The editorial board noted that problems will still remain, including the fact that elections supervisors will need greater access to state databases to reach new voters and that there's still uncertainty regarding how individuals will be notified by mail of their ability to vote. Highlighting last week's Orlando Sentinel's investigative report on people whose rights have yet to be restored, a New York Times editorial stated that Florida's restoration figure of 115,000 "turn[ed] out to have been an illusion." Reform "would be good for the ex-offenders, good for Florida and good for the larger cause of democracy," the Times stated. New York: Personal Fulfillment Includes the Right to Vote Germaine Knapp, CEO of the Sojourner House, a women's transitional support organization in New York, said many women her organization comes in contact with don't realize they have the right to vote if they have served their time, including parole. "The women who come to Sojourner House have made a courageous decision to overcome the challenges of drug addiction, mental illness and abuse," she wrote in a Democrat and Chronicle commentary. "They have chosen to free themselves from low expectations and taken the high road to self-sufficiency, responsibility and personal fulfillment. Yet, although those women have demonstrated unusual courage, they continue to doubt their right to participate fully in elections." Michigan: Attempting to Correct False Information A campaign to register 1500 new Michigan voters is underway in an effort to ''combat false information that was being disseminated from inside the Corrections Department itself,'' the Michigan Citizen reported. Unlock the Vote is working in Wayne, Genessee and Kalamazoo counties to empower citizens with felony convictions. Wisconsin: State Representative Thinks Law Should Change - for the Better Wisconsin law states that individuals must complete their prison sentence in addition to probation or parole to become eligible to vote. State Rep. Joe Parisi wants that to change, Channel 3000 reported. "Once you've served your time and you're released from prison, we expect you to participate in society again and we encourage you to take part in the democratic process and vote. It would save money, it would help integrate people back into society and it would make the administration of elections much smoother," said Parisi, who will continue lobbying for a bill reflecting his views. National: Voter Awareness Program Unveiled; Research Offers Judges' Views on Collateral Consequences A nonpartisan voter awareness program was unveiled by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in an effort to educate voters and address voting barriers, including disenfranchisement, in the upcoming November election, according to Diverse Issues in Education. "Prepared to Vote" will include sponsoring community-based workshops, holding meetings with election officials and posting information on an educational Web site, www.preparedtovote.org. "Prepared to Vote is a program designed to raise every voter's awareness of the many obstacles in the electoral process that could affect their right to vote in the 2008 election. Through Prepared to Vote, we hope to ensure that every eligible voter casts a vote that counts," said John Payton, LDF president and director-counsel. A new survey of judicial practice and understanding of the collateral consequences of criminal convictions finds that while judges report that courtroom practitioners frequently discuss these policies in court, there is also "further evidence of serious ambiguities and variation in these laws' purpose, character, and imposition." The study of trial court judges nationally, by Alec Ewald and Marnie Smith, also found that about 80% of respondents "did not believe the purposes of collateral consequences were clearly defined in their state's statutes" and that "judges appear to differentiate among collateral consequences," supporting some more strongly than others. The study, "Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions in American Courts," appears in The Justice System Journal, Vol, 29, #2. National: New York Review of Books Features Disenfranchisement Publication The New York Review of Books incorporated discussion of "Restoring the Right to Vote," a 34-page publication authored by Erika Wood of the Brennan Center for Justice in a review of electoral issues. The report proposes automatic post-incarceration voting rights restoration. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 8/28/08

Florida: 'Bureaucratic Shuffle' Disappointing Gov. Charlie Crist this week ordered his Office of Executive Clemency to make greater progress on granting citizens their civil rights, as the media and advocates have cited little progress on his 2007 policy change granting nonviolent offenders the right to vote, the Miami Herald reported. The article stated that "the governor's actions are too little, too late" for those hoping to vote in the upcoming election. "This was a lost opportunity," said Muslima Lewis, senior attorney for the ACLU's Racial Justice and Voting Rights Projects. "Had he issued today's executive order when we asked him to do so more than eight months ago, thousands more Floridians would have benefited. Waiting until August 27, when there are just over five weeks to register to vote for the November general election greatly diminishes the impact of the governor's action." An Orlando Sentinel editorial challenges Gov. Crist to "finish what you started," as thousands of citizens with felony offenses have yet to be notified on their voting status, despite his June announcement that more than 110,000 individuals' rights had been restored. "That was a good thing," the editorial states about the policy change. "But the process remains archaic because Florida is one of a few states that won't automatically restore civil rights to ex-felons." The Parole Board has lost several employees responsible for processing and contacting applicants causing a major lag and backup in notifying thousands of potential voters. "If you're going to pat yourself on the back for restoring civil rights, Mr. Crist, you may as well free up a few hands to finish what you started," the editorial concluded. According to an investigative report by the Orlando Sentinel, 9,000 of the 112,000 citizens who are newly eligible to vote had registered by the end of July. Virginia: Officials Working to Restore Rights of Hundreds by September Carla Whitehead recently got word from Gov. Tim Kaine that her application had been approved and her voting rights had been restored. "Basically, I view it as part of the restoration of my life . . . the opportunity for me to make a positive impact so others can see it from me," Whitehead was quoted as saying in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She is among 158 citizens with nonviolent felony convictions who have had their voting rights restored by the governor since mid-April, according to the Commonwealth. Officials gave individuals seeking restoration until Aug. 1 to submit an application for eligibility consideration. Reportedly, 918 were received and 733 of these were found to be qualified. The remaining applications were disqualified due to additional convictions or incomplete information. Officials hope to process applications by Sept. 15. "It's not just about going in and getting your rights restored," said Hasan Zarif, a formerly incarcerated advocate whose rights were restored last year. "We're giving them a recipe for what they need to be doing so when the governor restores their rights, he's restoring the rights of a productive citizen." Kentucky: Advocates Mobilize for 11 Weeks of Registration, Education This week, 14 Kentuckians for the Commonwealth Electoral Organizers began training to help members identify, register, educate, and mobilize 15,000 voters between now and Election Day. Members include advocate Tayna Fogle, former University of Kentucky basketball player and graduate whose rights were restored after a lengthy process of writing an essay and acquiring three letters of recommendations in 2006 - a process that has now been eliminated. Alabama: No Advocate in Attorney General Responding to the various opinion editorials and news articles that have followed the ACLU felony disenfranchisement suit, Alabama Attorney General Troy King wrote an editorial "defending this litigation." "Personally, I have advocated, and continue to advocate, for a change in the Alabama Constitution. We have it within our power as citizens to amend the constitution to prevent all felons from voting, not just those whose crimes involve moral turpitude," he stated. "The United States Supreme Court has said that is lawful and I say it is good policy: Those who violate the laws should not have any role in electing the officials who make and enforce the law. Until the Alabama Constitution is amended, however, I will continue to advise registrars to follow the law and to defend it against the baseless attacks of the ACLU." National: BET Documentary on Disenfranchisement Airs Friday, Sunday In "Locked Out: Ex-Cons and the Vote," BET News correspondent Samson Styles investigates how disenfranchisement laws affect African-American turnout at the polls. As one of the 5.3 million people in America who has lost the right to vote due to a criminal conviction, Styles sets out on a journey to regain his own voting rights, explore the state-to-state differences of disfranchisement laws. Locked Out: Ex-Cons and the Vote airs Friday at 11:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Pennsylvania: "Felons Can Vote" Sign at Campaign Headquarters Causes Minor Stir A sign alerting all citizens, including those with felony offenses, to register to vote was removed from the Barack Obama campaign headquarters in Pottstown last week by staff, the Pottstown Mercury News reported. "They just realized maybe it was sending the wrong message and took it down themselves," said Sean Smith, a spokesman from the Philadelphia campaign office. Michael Slater, spokesman for Project Vote, which advocates for full participation in the election process, said the sign should have remained and the effort should be "applauded, not repudiated or criticized." - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 8/22/08

Alabama: Moral Turpitude 'Vastly Inferior' The Press-Register featured an opinion editorial by former assistant attorney general David Bourne which blasted the ACLU Alabama's recent lawsuit advocating that citizens with felony convictions be allowed to vote. Bourne writes "The ACLU's lawsuit is nothing but a first step toward setting up polling places in prisons and jails. Our state cannot allow that to happen." He further argued that election officials would be faced with major inconveniences in deciding in which districts prisoners lived and having to spend "entire, 12-hour voting days within jailhouse walls." Calling Alabama's disenfranchisement laws "dysfunctional" and "vastly inferior," a commentary by Sam Brooke and Kimble Forrister featured in the Huntsville Times emphasizes the complex system that has confused many citizens with felony convictions seeking their right to vote. "How could such widespread mistakes occur? The short answer is that confusion over Alabama voting laws has long vexed citizens and state officials alike," the authors state. "We have a shameful history of voter disfranchisement, and conflicting statements from the attorney general and the Legislature haven't helped." The Legislature has identified disfranchising felonies, which include murder, rape, and forgery - named by the Constitution as crimes of moral turpitude. "Now, termination of voting rights occurs only for felonies involving 'moral turpitude,' an antiquated term that is not defined in the constitution ... It is absurd to require citizens who have never been deemed by the Legislature to be disfranchised in the first place to go through this process to exercise a right they never legally lost," the commentary continues. State law allows citizens with felony offenses and those currently serving terms for lesser felonies such as felony DUI, attempted burglary, battery, aiding and abetting escape and some drug possession offenses to vote. More than 5,500 people have had their voting rights restored under the new process, and 220 had requests pending at the end of July, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. Another 327 received pardons between the beginning of the year and the end of July. As a result, activist and head of The Ordinary People's Society, the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, continues to educate people in jail and citizens with felony convictions on Alabama's voting rights laws, the Dothan Eagle reported. For additional coverage, see the Final Call . California: County Jail Inmates Educated About their Right to Vote in Upcoming Election All of Us or None, a national organizing campaign, educated people in county jail in Redwood City on their right to vote. Dwight Dominique, who was released from jail six months ago, is helping to let inmates know that they can vote in the upcoming election, the San Mateo Daily News reported. Dominique said he didn't realize he was surrendering his vote when he pled guilty to felony drug charges. "Had I known, it probably would have made a different effect on the plea bargain I took," said Dominique, who was hoping to participate in this year's presidential election. Indiana: Advocacy Organization to Recruit 500 Volunteers to Register Voters The Grassroots Effort Committee for Change hopes to unveil voting power by helping to register individuals with felony offenses. They are recruiting 500 volunteers to educate and register the population, Fort Wayne's Frost Illustrated reported. Florida: Committee Supports Restoration While Commission Continues to Experience Backlog The Florida Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights last week released its report on the restoration of voting rights for citizens with felony convictions, "Ex-Felon Voting Rights in Florida: Revised Rules of Executive Clemency that Automatically Restore Civil Rights to Level-1 Offenders Is the Right Policy." In the report, the Committee unanimously supports a policy change and recommends that succeeding Governors and cabinet officials continue to endorse and retain this policy, Market Watch reported. The organization is a bi-partisan advisory panel to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The full report is available on the Commission's Web site. The issue of disenfranchisement was featured in a Florida Courier article that reported on the community's disappointment in the lack of diversity that exists on the Florida Parole Commission. Although the Commission has restored voting rights to about 115,000 people with non-violent offenses, the Commission still has thousands more applications to review. The article stated that the Commission processes about 7,000 cases a month; the prison system stated that about 3,000 individuals are released every month, leaving a minimum two-year waiting period for individuals currently on the list. Illinois: 'Myth' Misinforms Too Many A Journal Gazette Times Courier letter to the editor stated that the "myth" that formerly incarcerated persons cannot vote is misinforming many. Written by a citizen with a felony conviction who hopes to educate and register individuals like himself, Robert D. Donnell stated that county officials, too, don't know the state's laws, contributing to the misinformation. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information: e-mail -- [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 8/14/08

National: "New Constituency" Targeted as Election Day Approaches Florida civil rights lawyer Reggie Mitchell, Alabama activist Rev. Kenneth Glasgow and various grass-roots groups around the nation are trying to register tens of thousands of newly eligible citizens with felony convictions for the upcoming election. "They have taken up the cause on their own, motivated by the belief that former offenders have been unfairly disenfranchised for decades," the Washington Post reports. Mitchell said the state's former disenfranchisement policy that banned all citizens with felony convictions from voting offended his notion of justice. "You can serve your time and still have your rights taken away," he stated of the former policy which was changed last year to allow those with non-violent offenses and paid restitution to vote. "I studied the history of black disenfranchisement in the state. We had the grandfather laws and the tissue-paper ballots. When a black man came to vote, they gave him a tissue-paper ballot that was later thrown out. There were lynchings and riots. We've got a long history of depriving people of the right to vote in Florida." Commenting on the Post's coverage, the American Prospect posted a blog entry that begged for a logical response to continuing antiquated disenfranchisement laws. "Such laws are Constitutionally suspect. If someone has fulfilled their legal obligations in prison, why are they still being punished after release? Why do former felons lose the right to act politically in their own self-interest once they are supposedly free? What, exactly, is Constitutional about depriving American citizens of one of their most basic civil rights? How does disenfranchising the formerly incarcerated encourage them to be productive members of society? Most ridiculous is the presumption that such laws are 'tough on crime.' How does preventing ex-felons from voting prevent crimes from being committed?" For additional coverage, read the Daily News Record. In the summer edition of the National Urban League's Opportunity Journal, Kara Gotsch, The Sentencing Project's Director of Advocacy, wrote: "[E]xcluding David Waller from the voting booth [because of his felony conviction] did not just punish him and his family, but everyone who believes in an inclusive democratic society." She tells the story of Waller from Baltimore, Maryland, who registered to vote last year when Governor Martin O'Malley signed a law automatically restoring voting rights upon completion of sentence. Entitled, "Voting Rights Movement Continues for Citizens with Felony Convictions," the piece also highlights the devastating impact of state felony disenfranchisement laws and the momentum to change them. Florida: Automatic Restoration is in the Governor's Hands Mark Schlakman offers several suggestions and steps that Florida can take to ensure that citizens with felony convictions can regain their voting rights upon completion of sentence. In a St. Petersburg Times commentary. Schlakman recommends that Gov. Charlie Crist, who has already helped restore rights to nonviolent offenders who have paid restitution - sign an executive order that would implement provisions of a comprehensive re-entry bill that passed the Senate this year but died in the House. "The three tiers of review that were established by the April 2007 rule changes, which can be cumbersome and costly, could be collapsed into one resembling the approach taken under former Gov. Reubin Askew, simply to verify completion of sentence," Schlakman stated. He further suggested that the government do the following: --The governor and Cabinet should revisit the long-standing clemency rule that requires ex-offenders to pay restitution obligations in full as a precondition for rights restoration. --The governor and Cabinet should readopt a 1975 Rule of Executive Clemency that provided for essentially automatic restoration of rights upon completion of sentence. --The governor and Cabinet should require that civil rights restoration review be initiated before offenders complete their sentences rather than afterward. --The governor should direct the state Division of Elections to provide local elections supervisors with contact information for ex-offenders who have regained their rights to vote to help reach this newly eligible population. Nevada: More Difficulty Ahead A recent policy change in Nevada has made it more difficult for individuals with out-of-state felony convictions to regain the right to vote. Voting rights will be restored by the Nevada Secretary of State only if voting rights were restored in the state where the conviction and release occurred. The Secretary of State now requires individuals to get documented proof that their rights were restored, which can be a difficult task in the state they came from -- and that makes it virtually impossible because "there is just no system in place to get it to them," a K-LAS Eyewitness News editorial stated. "The registrar's letters even re-accuse ex-felons of committing another felony by trying to register to vote." - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web:http://www.sentencingproject.org.

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 8/7/08

Virginia: "There is Some Hope" "Those who have no concern for the plight of former criminals - regardless of how much these individuals have done to turn their lives around - should know that alienating ex-offenders does nothing more than pressure a return to criminal behavior," writes Brandon Patterson, the director of Resource Development at Virginia CARES Inc. in a Roanoke Times commentary. In Virginia, there are approximately 300,000 citizens with previous felony convictions. Because of disenfranchisement laws, they're banned from voting, but Gov. Tim Kaine has expedited the review process for petitioners with non-violent criminal records. Applicants were to submit an application to the Secretary of the Commonwealth by August 1. If their application is approved, they will be able to register for the November election. "The key to turning back voting laws is to empower the individuals affected by them," stated Patterson. Kentucky: Governor's Move to Restore Rights "Makes Every Kind of Sense" Saying they've completed their sentences and paid their debts to society, Gov. Steve Beshear has granted more than 700 "partial pardons" to citizens with felony convictions over the last five months, allowing them to vote, the Associated Press reported on July 29. "The primary goal of the corrections system is to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes and return them as contributing members to society," said Gov. Beshear. The move also restores the right to serve in office, but not to possess firearms. "Beshear has done the right thing. Now the General Assembly should follow his lead," states a Lexington Herald-Leader editorial on the governor's efforts to make voting more attainable for citizens with felony records. Formerly, citizens seeking vote restoration were required to submit an essay and three letters of recommendation before former Gov. Ernie Fletcher would even consider restoring voting rights. As a result, few Kentuckians regained their right to vote, the Herald-Leader stated. Earlier this year, Gov. Beshear eliminated that requirement and extended the time prosecutors have to protest a petition. He's since restored voting rights to 790 people and denied requests to 56 based on objections by prosecutors. During Fletcher's four years in office, voting rights were restored to 1,098 citizens. During the last session of the General Assembly, the House passed a bill that would automatically restore voting rights upon sentence completion, but it died in the Senate. Following suit, the Courier Journal editorial board also supported Beshear's efforts stating that, "it makes every kind of sense for Gov. Steve Beshear to have restored voting rights" to these individuals. "Giving convicts a stake in decent society, and its democratic processes, is not only the just thing to do but the smart investment to make." Tennessee: Voting While (Unknowingly) Disenfranchised While activists push for voting rights restoration, the state is tracking down voters who have illegally cast ballots over the years - because they hadn't realized their rights hadn't yet been restored, according to the Leaf Chronicle. The article reports that the Tennessee Department of State Election Division actively tracked individuals with felony records. Larry Neal was arrested even though he filed to have his rights restored in 1999 and has voted since 2001. "He had made efforts to reinstate his voting rights and had got confused - it wasn't intentional" said Public Defender Crystal Myers. Neal's case was eventually dismissed, but there continues to be a discrepancy in people's understanding of the policy. In fact, Myers said many of her clients with felony convictions who may be receiving food stamp benefits registered to vote through the Department of Human Services. Terry McMoore, of the ACLU of Tennessee, is working to get legislation passed to streamline the re-enfranchisement process. "It really bothers me," said McMoore. "We're trying to get the voter rights restored, and it's been simplified ... but that's another felony charge and you have to start all over again." Pennsylvania: Preventing Disenfranchisement A panel discussion sponsored by the YWCA's Downtown office of Racial Diversity and Inclusion in Pittsburgh focused on re-enfranchisement efforts on behalf of formerly incarcerated citizens. Politicians, journalists, and advocates attended the event as panelists and attendees to discuss how to better educate the community at large on voting rights, working polls and registering jail inmates and individuals with felony records, according to a Pittsburgh Courier article. " Anything that prohibits the vote of the public should be challenged," said Tim Stevens, a panel participant and founder and chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project. "Anytime the government starts discussing new policies for voting, it should raise a red flag for society." Panelists described state laws that allow those incarcerated for a misdemeanor or on parole or probation (with the exclusion of being a resident of a halfway house) to vote. Those incarcerated with misdemeanors are required to use an absentee ballot. "We don't want the most vulnerable to be disenfranchised because they are vulnerable," said Celeste Taylor of the Black Political Empowerment Project. "We must be vigilant and persistent in helping each other." National: Punishment Versus Basic Rights Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project and Roger Clegg, President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, debated each other on disenfranchisement in the Washington Examiner. Mauer's argument stated two key reasons to oppose disenfranchisement: "First, in a democracy everyone's voice should count; we should be wary of any attempt to restrict the right to vote based on perceived political views, loyalty or behavior. In fact, there is no evidence that people with felony convictions have significantly different views on defense policy, taxation, abortion or any other issue of concern to most Americans. Voting is also important for reasons of fairness and public safety. People living in the community on probation or parole supervision, or who have completed their felony sentence, are subject to all the obligations and responsibilities of other citizens. They work, pay taxes and support their children. Denying them the right to vote only communicates a message of second-class citizenship." Clegg's response stated that some felons should be allowed to vote, but be based on the seriousness of the crime, how long ago it was committed and the rehabilitation of the released citizen. "To participate in self-government, you must be willing to accept the rule of law. We don't let everyone vote; children, noncitizens and the mentally incompetent don't. Voting requires certain minimum, objective standards of trustworthiness, loyalty and responsibility, and those who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens don't meet those standards." Nicole Kief, state strategist for the ACLU Racial Justice Program wrote a blog offering an historical overview of voter disenfranchisement in addition to the successes advocates in several states have gained recently. She writes: "Felony disfranchisement's nasty roots in voter suppression should remind us that promoting access to the polls for all eligible voters is fundamental to the health of our democracy." Florida: Continue Momentum, Disband Disenfranchisement Contesting a Palm Beach Post editorial which praised Gov. Charlie Crist's efforts to restore voting rights to 115,000 citizens with felony offenses, Mark Schlakman pointed out several misleading claims featured in the piece. According to the Parole Commission, Schlakman stated, the 115,000 individuals whose rights were restored "included about 90,000 cases that date back to the early '80s and about 25,000 more recent cases pending final action by the board. Therefore, the 115,000 figure appears to be at least somewhat illusory." He also pointed out that more than 300,000 older rights restoration cases identified by the Department of Corrections for review last spring were deemed ineligible under the new rules. Schlakman further broke down the administrative process: the Florida Department of Corrections transmits the names of about 4,000 additional ex-offenders to the Parole Commission for rights restoration review each month after they are released or their probation is terminated. The reality is that the rights restoration process must be reengineered to address the public interest and the needs of ex-offenders. "With another stroke of his pen, Gov. Crist, with support from at least two Cabinet members, could restore the civil rights of many more ex-offenders who have completed their sentences, enabling them to register to vote. Only then will the rights restoration process reflect the fundamental fairness that the governor has been talking about," Schlakman concluded. Prior to last year's policy change, an average of about 7,000 persons got back their rights each year, according to the News-Press. There are now currently 1,000 cases that come in monthly and 57,000 cases await eligibility notice. Marshall Bland recently received his eligibility notice. "It's something that I thought would never happen," he said. "Now I'm going to do everything in my power to give back to my community. And voting can help." Still, the News-Press and the Florida Times-Union reported many do not know that their rights have been restored, or know about the policy change. "I walked around with my head down, thinking I can't vote," a newly restored voter, Charles Russell, was quoted as saying in the Florida Times- Union. "Come to find out, it's a totally different story. I can voice my opinion now instead of being pushed back in a corner." In an effort to continue momentum and completely erase disenfranchisement practices in the state, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) held its statewide annual convention in Tampa, where police, advocates, professors and formerly incarcerated individuals discussed the ramifications of losing civil rights. FRRC is pushing for an amendment on the statewide ballot that would automatically restore voting rights, WMNF 88.5 FM reported. Also in support of reform is Alachua County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut who is encouraging all residents to register to vote and update addresses, the Gainesville Guardian reported. "I'm very pleased that felons that have paid their debt to society have the opportunity to vote and make a difference in the elections" Chestnut was quoted as saying. "It's imperative for felons to know and follow through in the process to get their voting fully restored." Alabama: Father, Son Disagree on Disenfranchisement Policy in Op-ed A father and son battle out the issue of disenfranchisement in a pro-con op-ed featured in the Montgomery Advertiser. Mel Cooper Sr., the retired executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission supports disenfranchisement while his son, Mel Cooper Jr., president of an online consulting firm, asks his father why Annette McWashington Pruitt of Birmingham should lose her rights because of a 2003 felony conviction for receiving stolen property. "Before you answer, Dad, you should know that Ms. Pruitt apparently is not one of those apathetic (non-)voters you were moaning about a few weeks ago. She really does want to vote and had every intention of showing up at her local voting precinct on Election Day like every other citizen in Jefferson County," wrote the son. The father responded: "Well, Son, without even knowing which major crime Ms. Pruitt violated, I cannot work up any sympathy for her, nor can I reward her for having served a prison term by restoring her right to vote in any election." - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org.

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