Many ex-felons will not show up at the polls next Tuesday, says the Los Angeles Times. More than 4.7 million Americans are barred from casting ballots because of a current or past conviction. Millions more simply don’t know their voting rights. Confused by folklore and misinformation, many ex-felons just throw up their hands. California is one of 35 states that forbids convicts from voting while in prison or on parole. Seven states permanently ban ex-offenders from voting, or require them to obtain permission from a governor or legislature to regain the right. Seven others outlaw voting by some categories of felons, or impose a waiting period.
To some experts, barring ex-convicts is unfair. Doing time for a crime, they say, does not make someone unfit to pick a leader or decide a ballot measure. Ex-convicts may own property, marry, handle weapons and have children. They are also expected to pay taxes. Voting empowers people “to bounce back and be part of life,” said George Bell, director of men’s ministries at the Union Rescue Mission, where a third of the residents are former felons. At Crime Victims United of California, Chairwoman Harriet Salarno, whose daughter was killed in 1979, believes committing a crime should mean a lifetime ban from the polls. “You lose your rights when you commit a felony,” she said. “That’s how it should be.” Activists are working to inform ex-convicts of their rights and get them registered to vote. California has the nation’s largest incarcerated population, with 164,000 people in state prisons and another 112,000 on parole. Community groups have been distributing fliers encouraging ex-offenders to vote.