They Got Their Voting Rights Back, But Will They Go to the Polls?

This article was originally published by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.

Most Sundays, Clint Williams attends service at one of the biggest churches in New Orleans. In the pews he sometimes finds himself sitting shoulder to shoulder with the city’s black elected officials. Over the years many have asked for his support.

“Politicians ask me: ‘Are you voting for me?’ And I’d just say, ‘yeah, I am working on it,’” Williams said.

But Williams, 58, has never voted. He’s been on parole for the past 30 years, which, until March, made him ineligible to choose who will represent him in public office. If not for the law change, Williams would have lost the right to vote until he was nearly 80 years old. His parole ends in 2040.

Williams and nearly 37,000 Louisianans who have recently had their voting rights restored by the state legislature are joining a potential wave of new voters from across the country. Last year, Florida elected to restore voting rights to nearly 1.5 million people with felony convictions. And, as of July 1, nearly 77,000 formerly incarcerated people in Nevada will be able to vote in the next election.

The influx of new voters could shape upcoming elections in these states as well as the presidential race in 2020. Florida and Nevada, both increasingly purple swing states, are important prizes to secure an Electoral College victory. While little is known about the political leanings of the formerly incarcerated, many political observers assume they would vote for Democrats. For one, black adults are four times more likely to be barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws, according to the Sentencing Project. And black voters have consistently favored Democrats.

But these assumptions could be overblown. The formerly incarcerated must overcome daunting hurdles, both personal and administrative, in order to vote. In Florida, for example, the legislature required the newly-eligible voters to pay outstanding fines and fees before registering, which critics say is akin to a poll tax. In Louisiana, many of these potential voters are consumed by the struggle to rebuild their own lives after prison. They must also combat the apathy born of their ordeals: In interviews, several formerly incarcerated people said they were not sure that elected officials can make a difference in their lives.

With the voter registration deadline in Louisiana looming for the upcoming gubernatorial primary in October, community organizers are working overtime to reach as many newly eligible voters as possible. Under the new law, people on probation and people who have been on supervision for five years after being released from prison are able to get their voting rights restored. But the state will not automatically inform people who are affected. So the organizers have run ads on social media, put up posters in probation and parole offices, knocked on doors in minority neighborhoods, and appeared on …read more

Source:: Mother Jones

      

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