This week we are sharing a recent article from NonprofitVOTE about an organization working to alleviate the confusion around voting rights for those with past felony convictions through a website called Restoreyourvote.org.
The article contains a link to The Sentencing Project's 2016 report on disenfranchisement, which found that more than 6 million Americans were barred from voting to a current or past felony conviction. That estimate does not include people who have had their voting rights restored, but still believe they are unable to vote due to misinformation or confusion regarding their state's laws. We encourage you to download the full report for a state by state comparison of voting restoration laws and a closer look at how disenfranchisement disproportionately affects African American communities.
How One Website Is Fighting to Give Ex-Felons Back Their Power to Vote
Cold weather makes you sick. You only use 10% of your brain. Ex-felons can’t vote.
We’ve heard these all our lives and while none of them are actually true, only one of them is hurting our democracy.
“When you run into people with past convictions many of them believe that they cannot vote. That’s not true,” says Danielle Lang, Senior Legal Counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “There are 23 million people with past felony conviction — but 17 million people with felonies ARE eligible to vote and more can apply to get their rights back. Sadly, there are very few resources that can provide, in plain terms, how someone with a past conviction can vote or get their rights back.”
That is, until August when the Campaign Legal Center launched Restoreyourvote.org, a simple tool to help those with past felonies to secure their vote.
“We set about making the easiest tool we could,” Lang says. “There’s a logic chain which leads you to the path that’s right for you. It could tell you if you can already vote or the next steps to get the vote back. We paired it with a hotline and an email address so they can get in touch with lawyers.”
This tool is just one in a growing arsenal being built to combat widespread disinformation and fear. The fear comes from the stories we hear and see in the news. Stories like Crystal Mason, a Texas woman who served 60 months for tax fraud, cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election, unaware the state did not allow her to due to her conviction. In June, the mother of three was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a ballot that was not even counted.
Mason’s story is just one of untold numbers who are unsure about the status of their vote after serving time. This leads to real harm not only to those who find themselves disenfranchised but to the health of our democracy. According to report by The Sentencing Project, over six million people were unable to vote in 2016 due to a past felony. That number is especially brutal for African Americans for which nearly 8% could not participate in the last general election due to a past felony.
With no national standard for voting with a past felony it can be quite confusing, though the trend is more positive. Fourteen states and D.C. only revoke voting rights during incarceration. Each state has its own rules and even those can be complex and circumstantial while 21 others revoke voting until after probation (felons in Maine and Vermont never lose their right).
Though that leaves 13 states with more complex and grueling voter restoration processes, the good news is that restoring the right to vote to people with felonies has become a bi-partisan effort. Everyone from Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum to President Barack Obama have touted reforms to ensure those who have done their time to be fully reinstated citizens will have the power to vote again.
While the numbers are still out, Lang says she knows the tool is working. “We received an email from a person who had a 10-year-old conviction — he said his parole office told him he would never be able to vote again. I was able to look up his state and conviction and tell him that he COULD indeed vote.”