Chloe Coppola is an Advocate with us at Progressive Prison Ministries. Among many other things, she organizes our online White Collar Support Group that meets on Zoom on Monday evenings, is a liaison and navigator on behalf of our group members, organizes our podcasts White Collar Week and Criminal Justice Insider, and is a dedicated researcher and writer on criminal, racial and women’s justice themes. Chloe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at LinkedIn.
Do you have a felony and want to vote? Click here to see your eligibility.
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“When we’re talking about voting rights in a country with the current highest incarceration rate in the world, felon voting rights cannot be subtext.”
“Can a person convicted of a felony vote in the United States of America?”
If this question appeared on a test, I’d probably start sweating. You know, the kind of panic you feel when you should know the answer, but you’re not entirely sure. This is the kind of question that makes me think, “I must have learned about this at some point?”
But in the curriculum in my high school AP US History class, this subject was conspicuously absent.
In classrooms across the country, the issue of felon voting rights is often overlooked entirely or, at best, cited as one of the methods of minority voter suppression.
Outside of the classroom, I consumed most information about the criminal justice system through police procedural tv shows, and on Judge Judy. Somewhere along the line, I came to assume all people convicted of a felony lost their right to vote. Period. That has to be the law of the land of a Dick Wolf-approved script, right?
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who was wrong. Simply, people convicted of a felony can vote in most states.
When we’re talking about voting rights in a country with the current highest incarceration rate in the world, felon voting rights cannot be subtext.
While Maine and Vermont are the only states with no voting restrictions, and even allow people currently incarcerated to vote, if you live elsewhere, the process of restoring your vote must be examined on a state-by-state basis. Luckily, instead of us diving into these complexities, there’s an easier and faster approach. The good folks at the Campaign Legal Center have made it easy. They have created a quiz to help people convicted of a felony understand their voting rights in an accessible and comprehensible way. Try it yourself and share it with others, here: restoreyourvote.org.
When we talk about “low voter turnout” among marginalized communities, we cannot blame the individuals. Instead, we must examine and understand the systemic oppression in which these people exist. What barriers are preventing them from voting? Are we talking about these barriers in an accessible way? How do we uphold democracy when millions are increasingly disenfranchised?
According to The Sentencing Project, “[as of 2016], African American disenfranchisement rates in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia now exceed 20 percent of the adult voting age population. In fact, whereas only 9 states disenfranchised at least 5 percent of their African American adult citizens in 1980, 23 states do so today.” This trend is entirely unacceptable.
The more we uncover and address the systemic barriers put in place to silence the communities most negatively affected by the governments’ policies, the more can have fair and unbiased elections.
What can any individual do? Write your legislators, make yourself known, help register the sick and the elderly…
And most importantly – VOTE!
Yodit Tewolde, NAACP Instagram Live 9/23/2020 9:45 pm EST