As of 2020, millions of formerly incarcerated people in 13 states had recovered their right to vote. After the November general election, my co-reporter, Nicole Lewis, was curious to understand the impact formerly incarcerated voters had on the election — particularly local elections. She knew that millions of people were newly eligible to vote, but she had no idea how many had registered and how many turned out.

We both knew it wasn't going to be a straightforward request because few states actually track how many formerly incarcerated people register to vote.

We knew that we needed the voter rolls. Thankfully, Nicole was able to get the list of potentially eligible voters in some states. In states that did not have a list of eligible voters, a list of all people released from prison served as a proxy.

We found that no more than 1 in 4 formerly incarcerated voters had registered to vote in the recent election, in four key states where we were able to obtain voter registration records along with some form of release records. Compare that to the general population, where 3 in 4 eligible voters registered to vote.

We initially thought the story was about formerly incarcerated people who turned out to vote in the most recent election. The story that emerged from the analysis was about the barriers to registration. We saw low numbers of registrants in our data analysis, and as we spoke to organizers about it, we repeatedly heard about newly eligible voters being unaware their rights had been restored.

From a technical standpoint, the biggest challenge was cleaning the data. We received records in various formats (PDF, CSV, TSV), preventing one-size-fits-all processing.

From a reporting standpoint, a challenge was identifying which state agency had the records we wanted and negotiating a release with them. In Arizona, for example, we received the release records — but the voter registration records would have cost about $6,000, meaning we had to exclude that state from the analysis. And in some cases, states don’t track who has been re-enfranchised — only who has been released.

This analysis is highly reproducible, and we hope to see journalists in other states asking these questions about a growing and important voter pool.

Read the full article about restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people by Andrew R. Calderón at The Marshall Project.