Redefining Constituency for Formerly Incarcerated Voters

Forty-eight states do not allow currently incarcerated individuals to vote in local or federal elections. The only exceptions are Maine and Vermont. As a result, the voices of 3 million Americans are unheard—many of which were arrested or incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. And with very few avenues for suffrage, those same 3 million Americans have almost no hope for participating in our democracy. The truth is, we don’t just incarcerate prisoners, we strip the freedoms of mothers, fathers, and children.

In many states, prisoners do not recollect their ability to vote, even after they are released. The most recent story is of Crystal Mason, a Texas woman who has been sentenced to five years for voting while on a supervised released. She did not know she was not allowed to vote. Subsequently, she was punished for trying to engage civically. After her hearing, she said, “I don’t think I’ll ever vote again. “Mason’s hopelessness about her inability to take part in a very basic aspect of citizenship should be a heartbreaking revelation for all of us. She cannot affect decisions that will rule education policy in the school her family members attend, how businesses owners are governed, or even, how the arts and community affairs are supported by the city.

By not allowing prisoners to vote, we are setting them up for a cycle of recidivism. These men and women walk out of prison with a mark of shame on their backs. They are unable to find work. They are overwhelmingly stigmatized. Part of beginning the rehabilitating process is giving these men and women power and capital in the communities they will join upon release. Every member of a community should have the chance to make a positive impact on the lives of their neighbors. We need to embody the spirit of a true democracy.

The “tough on crime” narrative is pervasive throughout the American political sphere. It has become a label that many politicians embrace, while other politicians try to prove. The idea of being “tough on crime” has led to many Americans being incarcerated and stripped of their rights, due to unfair laws and over policing in their neighborhoods. Elected officials get away with using these people as tools to garner support for their campaigns, sponsors, and causes. They fail to take into account the lives they are affecting and ruining. Yet they then face no repercussions at the ballot box. With 2018 elections shortly on the horizon, Vote Everywhere at Georgia State University is making a priority to educate and empower others to get involved on felon voting rights. We hope you do too.

About the Author

Evan Malbrough is currently a student and Vote Everywhere Ambassador at Georgia State University, where he majors in Public Policy with a focus on Governance and a minor in Cello Performance. In the summer of 2017, Evan became a research fellow for the Department of Defense under the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness. Evan serves as the 2017-2018 president of the Young Democrats of Georgia State University. He also works as a professional Cellist in the Atlanta area.