Giving Compass' Take:
- The Marshall Project presents an analysis indicating that many formerly incarcerated people did not register to vote in the 2020 presidential election in key states because they were unaware that they could.
- How can donors help ensure that re-enfranchised people with felonies are aware of their voting rights?
- Learn more about barriers preventing re-enfranchised people from voting.
What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Only a fraction of the thousands of formerly incarcerated people whose voting rights were restored in time for the 2020 election made it back on to the voter rolls in four key states — Nevada, Kentucky, Iowa, and New Jersey, a Marshall Project analysis found.
At least 13 states have expanded voting rights for people with felony convictions between 2016 and 2020. As a result, millions of formerly incarcerated people across the country are now eligible to vote.
None of the states we examined registered more than 1 in 4 eligible voters who were formerly incarcerated, significantly lower than the registration rate among the general public, where almost 3 in 4 eligible voters registered in each state.
Devyn Roberts, 44, only heard about the voting rights changes after responding to a Marshall Project survey for newly eligible voters in Kentucky. Roberts hasn’t been eligible to vote for most of her adult life, so she hasn’t been following politics closely and didn’t know about Kentucky’s executive order restoring voting rights to some people with felony convictions.
“We are non-voters,” she said. “They should have told us. There should have been a commercial about this.”
Many people working to register newly eligible voters said the low registration numbers for formerly incarcerated people reflect more than apathy and political alienation. Most don’t even know they now have the right to vote. None of the states in our analysis required corrections departments or boards of elections to notify newly eligible voters of their rights. The task was left to political organizers, already stretched thin by get-out-the-vote efforts amid a pandemic. To coax the newly enfranchised back onto the voter rolls, they’ve had to dispel the widely-held fear that voting could mean going back to prison.
Organizers are gearing up to apply the lessons of the last election to the politically consequential 2022 midterms. They’re urging corrections officials and probation and parole officers to notify people that their rights have been restored. With the pandemic waning, they’re planning to reach more formerly incarcerated people in person at rallies and in halfway houses across their states. Many of the officials who oversee the justice system are up for election in the midterms: judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, and the county commissioners and state legislators who oversee them.
Read the full article about the voting rights of people with felonies by Nicole Lewis and Andrew R. Calderón at The Marshall Project.