Campaign Legal Center (CLC) recently joined its voting rights partners in celebrating National Voter Registration Day by continuing our work to ensure that every eligible voter can register to vote and cast a ballot.
Our democracy works best when every American can vote without barriers. However, for the 18 million Americans with past felony convictions, felony disenfranchisement laws often prevent them from voting. In many states, information on the rights restoration process is hard to access, making it both difficult and confusing for people to know what they must do to be able to vote.
Some common challenges include unclear information about what constitutes a disqualifying conviction, how out-of-state convictions effect an individual’s voting rights in their current state of residency, or the requirement that a person pay off fines and fees before they can regain the right to vote.
Even when states have less restrictive felony disenfranchisement laws, many people still believe the false notion that a felony conviction always means you cannot vote.
In 2018, to help people better understand their rights and provide direct rights restoration, CLC launched RestoreYourVote.org, a free online toolkit to allow people with felony convictions across the country to take the necessary steps so they can have their voting rights restored.
Since its launch, RestoreYourVote.org has had 173,500 unique visitors, helping countless people to realize their rights.
For instance, Iowa citizen Jacob Shepard was able to work with CLC organizers, ultimately leading to him being granted clemency from his governor and participating in the Iowa caucus on Feb. 3, 2020.
The information on the website has also been supplemented by a grassroots campaign by CLC and in-state partners to reach out to potential voters and help them navigate the rights restoration process.
The Alabama Voting Rights Project, which is a partnership between CLC and the Southern Poverty Law Center, assisted Alabama citizen Rodney Lofton in registering to vote and making it to the polls on Election Day. Without this support, Lofton may not have known he was eligible to register to vote in the first place.
In the two years since the launch of RestoreYourVote.org, many states have also rolled back restrictive felony disenfranchisement laws.
Last year, Nevada and Colorado revised their laws to reenfranchise individuals upon release from incarceration. In Nevada, CLC sent a letter of support encouraging Gov. Steve Sisolak to sign the bill. The law went into effect on July 1, 2019, restoring voting rights to more than 77,000 people.
On August 5, 2020, Iowa’s governor signed an executive order restoring the voting rights of most people with felony convictions who had served their time after CLC sent a letter urging her to do so. Iowa was the last state in the country to make individuals apply for clemency and receive an individual order to restore their voting rights.
Additionally, CLC is continuing to fight on behalf of all Floridians seeking rights restoration. In November 2018, a majority of Florida voters passed Amendment 4 to restore voting rights to over a million Floridians.
But in June 2019, the Florida legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis reversed course when they passed and signed into law a bill requiring that people complete the payment of debt associated with previous convictions. This has resulted in an ongoing legal battle, which has thus far prevented the promise of rights restoration from being realized.
Our democracy functions best when all citizens can vote without barriers. CLC will keep working both on-the-ground and in the courts to enable those with felony convictions to vote and make their voices heard in the political process.