Millions of Ex-offenders Given a Voting 'Death Sentence'

Freddie Allen | 8/1/2012, 5:07 p.m.

The Sentencing Project was one of the first groups in the late 1990s to study the impact of the disenfranchisement restrictions facing citizens flowing through the criminal justice pipeline. Once the information from the studies started getting out, momentum to change the laws began to build.

In 2007, Maryland lifted the lifetime voting ban on ex-felons and Maine and Vermont allow prisoners to vote. In Iowa, however, Republican Governor Terry Branstad overturned an executive order that restored voting rights to ex-felons, an executive order signed into law by the former Governor [now Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture] Tom Vilsack, a Democrat. Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott reinstated a five-year waiting period for non-violent ex-offenders before they could apply to regain their voting privileges.

According to Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is not surprised by the move to disenfranchise ex-offenders.

She said, "I predicted [in 2000] that we were seeing a new movement where people would attempt to win elections by destroying the opportunity to vote for people who would not vote in their favor."

Arnwine said that ex-offenders, need to organize and see their fight for voting rights as a larger challenge facing the community.

"Most states that have done away with the permanent bans did it through their state legislature," said Arnwine. "People need to be looking at their House members and the state senators. They need to make sure those people are with them."

Courtney Stewart, chairman of The Reentry Network for Returning Citizen, said that many ex-offenders don't understand the voting process and how crucial the right to vote is when it comes to reclaiming their rights.

"United States is about politics," said Stewart "So we have to get involved in the political process. If you're saying that you're a returning citizen and you want your citizenship and you want all of your rights returned to you, the best thing that you can do is [vote]."

The Reentry Network for Returning Citizens assists ex-offenders in their transition back into their communities.

For more information, on voting rights call the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law hotline 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) Monday-Friday 9am-5pm EST.