When I discuss restoring the right to vote for ex-offenders, I often mention that this is not a partisan issue.
Anyone has the right to vie for my vote by providing a platform that appeals to my needs and political interests. NO one has the right to take my vote away, just because they think I won't vote for them or their party. The entire reason we have a democracy is so we all have a voice and no one should be silenced because someone doesn't want to hear them.
It is purely the most American of issues our country faces today. More and more around the country, Conservatives are becoming enlightened and realizing that this issue of the right to vote and taxation without representation are non-partisan issues. The right to vote in America and around the world is codified not only in American law and history, but also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a treaty signed by the United States over 50 years ago. The UN has just declared the United States in non-compliance with the UDHR specifically because of it's mish-mash of laws around the country that deny the right to vote to citizens due to a felony conviction in a variety of ways.
For example, in a few states, your right to vote is taken away forever with just one felony conviction. In some, the law is just too confusing to even begin to describe here.
In others, like Wisconsin, you may not vote until you have completed your entire sentence of incarceration, probation and parole/extended supervision. That could be 6 months, but it could also be 20 or 30 years, or even a lifetime -- a long time to not have a voice in your government. This has led to a felon list that costs the state $35,000/election to print and estimates are that developing it has cost over $20 million and the list isn't even accurate, not to mention the administrative nightmare is causes election officials, extra staffing, etc...
The cost to the taxpayers to keep unincarcerated people from voting in Wisconsin is unconscionable with the fiscal issues we face on real problems... Especially since the laws, do not deter crime, people who vote after conviction are less likely to reoffend, it disproportionately affects the poor and people of color and the bottom line is the law is not necessary and even worse, other states less progressive than WI have scrapped it all together...
For example in 14 states including, IL, IN, OH, PA, and MI (most of our neighbors), you get the right to vote back immediately upon release into the community, i.e. if you live work and pay taxes in the community, you can vote (what is un-American about that?).
Finally in Maine and Vermont, your right to vote is never taken away due to a felony conviction and they bring the voting booths in the prisons and everyone votes!
The process for getting your right to vote back in states that deny the vote to certain citizens, can be just as disfranchising as the unnecessary laws that deny the vote in the first place. In some your right to vote is automatically restored. In others, you may have to get a pardon from the governor and in others explicit governor approval is required to restore your right to vote.
Florida until recently fell into that last category. The process held approximately 500,000 people who were otherwise eligible to vote from restoring their rights because of the shear backload of cases and inefficiency in processing those cases. People would be on the list to be restored for 7-14 years all the while technically eligible to vote, but waiting for that hearing to officially declare their rights restored. That's if they bothered to get on the list at all...
In 2006, the GOP Governor of Florida Charlie Crist came into office, took one look at the process and rightfully said essentially, this is is ridiculous. As a result, the governor by Executive Order instituted a partial automatic restoration process that gave approximately 175,000 people the right to apply for restoration immediately. The ruling was confusing, an administrative nightmare and frankly not at all the road easily taken... That said, it was stunning progress and an exciting development for voting rights in America. Organizations all over Florida are now working to get the process manageable so that those people can vote this fall, and Governor Crist is more and more doing the right thing and showing that he values the right to vote as just that, a right for all and not a privilege for the few.
The Governor has issued a new Executive Order aimed at simplifying the process even more that requires the DOC to include the restoration application in release materials to ex-offenders. More needs to be done. Progress is progress.
Governor Crist in Florida seems to be on the right track, and I am challenging Wisconsin voters to demand that those they elect this fall regardless of party do the right thing in the spring and work in a bipartisan way to achieve automatic restoration of the right to vote upon release from prison. It's cheaper, will make our streets safer and it's the patriotic thing to do!
Wanna find out more? Go to http://www.restorethevotewi.org/ to join the coalition and learn how you can help make Wisconsin's elections truly democratic again.
Then call Senator Herb Kohl. Ask him to sign on to the BIPARTISAN Democracy Restoration Act being proposed by Russ Feingold that would provide for automatic restoration to all ex-offenders nationwide immediately upon release into their communities. Let's break the chain of mismatched and confusing laws in this country that regionally disfranchise 5 million US citizens annually. If you don't live in Wisconsin call your Senators and ask them to sign on as co-sponsors REGARDLESS OF PARTY.
Again this is NOT a partisan issue it is fundamentally about fairness.