For Former Felons, Voting Rights Could Be a Click Away
Millions of new voters could register across the country, starting Tuesday, with the launch of an online tool meant to help former felons restore their right to vote.
The Campaign Legal Center’s website, restoreyourvote.org, attempts to guide users through a sometimes confusing jumble of state laws to determine whether past convictions or unpaid fines would keep them from the ballot box.
It is the latest salvo in a growing movement to politically empower formerly incarcerated people, a group that is disproportionately African-American. It is unclear how much of an effect such efforts will have on elections because they are more likely to infuse urban areas that already lean left with more Democratic voters. But organizers have framed the issue as a question of civil rights.
“There is a lot of misinformation, and the laws can be complicated,” said Blair Bowie, a Campaign Legal Center voting rights fellow. “This certainly is an opportunity for people with convictions to assert their voices in elections.”
Bowie said the website is the first to compile every state’s laws in one place in a way that is easy to understand.
“We have spent a long time figuring out how the laws work so we can help diagnose people’s paths to restoration,” she said. “Even for people with legal training, the process is not totally clear.”
Organizers from the Campaign Legal Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, working as the Alabama Voting Rights Project, have been canvassing neighborhoods and conducting legal clinics in the state to help voters understand their rights. The Campaign Legal Center is planning similar drives in Arizona, Nevada and Texas.
Estimates of the number of former felons nationwide are as high as 23 million. While about 6 million are prohibited from voting under state laws, the rest, as many as 17 million, should be able to have their rights restored, Campaign Legal Center representatives said.