By Ricki Fairley, Dove Marketing, (The Cincinnati Herald and The Dayton Defender)
Many people wonder, “Can a convicted felon vote?” and assume the laws have restricted their rights. But that’s not true. While many states have some restriction on felon voting rights, most states restore the right to vote to people after they complete their sentences. In fact, up to 17 million Americans with past convictions can vote right now – they just don’t know it – because the felony disenfranchisement laws in every state can be confusing.
RestoreYourVote.org is a website that was developed by Campaign Legal Center, an organization of attorneys working in Washington, D.C. seeking to ensure that every eligible voter has access to the ballot. Learn more about the Center and their work to protect the right to vote at CampaignLegal.org .
CLC is working in partnership on this project with the Democracy Initiative Education Fund, a network of 69 civil rights, environmental, labor and civic organizations formed to restore the core principles of democracy and political equality. They have researched the laws in every state to help people understand their voting rights by state. Though they don’t offer legal services or legal advice and can’t guarantee that voting rights will be restored (that power rests with state authorities), RestoreYourVote.org provides the best information available to make rights restoration accessible for citizens with felony convictions.
Processes can be complicated and unclear in some states. With the help of RestoreYourVote.org, individuals will no longer have to wonder whether they have the right to vote and will no longer have to ask, “Can I restore my right to vote?” Using this website is completely anonymous.
Willie Mack of Tuscaloosa recently contacted CLC’s Blair Bowie because he tried to register to vote and was denied. Blair works with the Alabama Voting Rights Project, a joint project with CLC and the Southern Poverty Law Center to help Alabamians with past convictions restore their voting rights. He checked Mack’s record and found that he had a trafficking conviction from 1990, which is disqualifying.
Blair told Mack that the trafficking conviction was disqualifying and that he would need to get a Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote. But Mack insisted that his conviction had been reduced to possession with intent to distribute, a non-disqualifying conviction. After some digging, Blair couldn’t find any proof in the Alabama criminal record database of the information that Mack provided. Mack was able to secure and fax to Blair court minutes of his case and various appeals, showing that his conviction had, in fact, been reduced several years post-sentence.
John Paul, an organizer with the Alabama Voting Rights Project and Mack went to the registrar in Tuscaloosa with that record in hand. Together, they advocated for Mack’s rights. Mack was able to register to vote for the first time in his life. Mack texted Blair: “This feeling is the best.”
CLC is working to help others across the country through its Restore Your Vote campaign. The campaign includes a resource that helps to educate those with past convictions in all 50 states about their rights, as well as on-the-ground efforts in Arizona, Nevada and Texas. #RestoreYourVote