Bill Cobb last year founded a nonprofit called Redeemed that helps support ex-offenders, and this summer started a campaign, #freetovote, that aims to register 20,000 ex-offenders in Philadelphia, reports Philly.com. Pennsylvania has among the nation’s most progressive voting laws: Virtually anyone who isn’t currently incarcerated for a felony conviction can cast a ballot. Getting out that vote – even in a year when Pennsylvania is considered a key battleground – is another matter. “Traditionally there isn’t a significant investment in getting these people out to the polls,” Cobb said. “Many of us believe the politicians are not interested in having these people vote, because it makes it difficult to manage the outcome of the election.” After all, a committeeman can’t hand a sample ballot to an inmate voting absentee from jail.
It’s a battle fought piecemeal every presidential election. Voter education falls to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pennsylvania Prison Society, as well as correctional authorities. The state Department of Corrections has identified 6,000 inmates (out of 50,000 statewide) who are incarcerated on misdemeanors and therefore are eligible to vote, and counseled them individually on voter registration and absentee voting. The Philadelphia Department of Prisons selected a public relations firm, GNCPR, to visit each city facility a few times, to provide voter-registration and absentee-ballot information to 10 to 20 block representatives at a time, who would then relay the information to other inmates.