Despite Reforms, Parolees Had Trouble Voting In Midterms

By Sarah Martinson | November 16, 2022, 5:53 PM EST ·

Even though years have passed since some states restored voting rights to parolees, flawed implementation led to confusion that prevented some from voting in the midterm election last week, activists said at a virtual event.

Tuesday's event, hosted by research and advocacy nonprofit The Sentencing Project, examined how people who have been formerly incarcerated are still disenfranchised in the U.S.

Stephanie Jeffcoat, a community organizer at A New Way of Life Reentry Project, said at the event that California parolees were prevented from voting in the midterms because outdated voter registration forms said they were ineligible to vote while on parole.

"So many people that are coming home on parole still don't think that they have the right to vote," she said.

In recent years, several states have expanded voting rights to people who were formerly incarcerated, according to a report released by The Sentencing Project in October. These states include California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington.

One example is California's Proposition 17, which voters approved in November 2020, according to the report.

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation last year that restored voting rights to people on parole, the report said.

And also last year, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law that automatically restores voting rights to people upon their release from prison, according to the report.

While states are making progress on restoring voting rights to disenfranchised people, 4.6 million Americans are still ineligible to vote because of laws that were implemented after the end of slavery to prevent people with a felony conviction from voting, the report found.

Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said at the event that dozens of Floridians who were formerly convicted and had voter identification cards were arrested for trying to vote because of a "broken system."

"In Florida, four years later, you still can't be told yes or no on the front end of the voter registration process whether you're eligible or not," he said.

In 2018, Florida voters passed an amendment that restores voting rights to people after they complete their prison sentence, according to The Sentencing Project's report.

However, a year later, Florida lawmakers passed a law that made the restoration of voting rights conditional on the payment of all restitution, fees and fines, the report said.

Volz said that when his coalition worked to get voting rights restored in Florida, it made the mistake of not developing a strategy for implementation once it accomplished its mission.

As a result, people are still uncertain about whether they are eligible to vote in the state, he said.

"Implementation cannot be overvalued," Volz said. "You have to think through every step of implementation the minute we start talking about changing policy."

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

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