When Quentin Blackburn was imprisoned for a felony in the 1990s, it was clear he could no longer vote or possess a firearm. It wasn’t until last month that the 48-year-old Milwaukee man found out his right to vote was restored when he finished serving his most recent sentence. “It’s new news to me,” said Blackburn, who went to prison for drug crimes and now works in a factory that makes cleaning wipes. Activists believe there are thousands of former prisoners like Blackburn across Wisconsin who could be voting but didn’t know it — people whose ballots could be a factor in a state known for deciding elections by the narrowest of margins, the Associated Press reports. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, helping him clinch the presidency. EX-Prisoners Organizing, or EXPO, a statewide group of former prisoners, is fanning out across Wisconsin in an effort to register 7,000 people before the fall election.
Their work could affect turnout among African Americans in Wisconsin, which dropped between the 2012 and 2016 elections at a level greater than the national average, a shift that along with Trump’s improved performance with white voters factored into his win. The American Civil Liberties Union says one out of nine African Americans of voting age in Wisconsin is “disfranchised,” or ineligible to vote due to a felony conviction, compared to one out of 50 Wisconsin voters. Milwaukee, where Democrats will hold their party’s nominating convention in July, is home to two-thirds of Wisconsin’s black population. It’s among the nation’s most segregated metro areas, with whites largely living in suburbs or in trendy neighborhoods along Lake Michigan while blacks are concentrated on the west and northwest sides where there are fewer jobs, more poverty and high rates of crime and incarceration.