#SecondChanceMonth: Unlock the Vote

April 13, 2022

Courtesy: Nicole D. Porter SentencingProject.org

Honoring April as Second Chance Month gives us an opportunity to check in on developments in voting rights and expanding the franchise to incarcerated voters. Voting rights for justice impacted voters is a re-entry and public safety issue. Research suggests that re-enfranchisement can facilitate successful re-entry and reduce recidivism. The Sentencing Project is working regularly with state and local campaigns to expand voting rights to justice impacted voters.

Voting in Prison Advocacy

In 2022, advocates in at least four states are working to advance legislation that allows voting for persons in prison while a recent North Carolina trial court ruling expanded voter eligibility to persons on felony probation and parole.

  • Connecticut – Formerly incarcerated advocates with the Full Citizens Coalition to Unlock the Vote and their partners called on lawmakers to raise a bill to allow incarcerated persons to vote. Last year, the coalition successfully won voting rights for persons parole.
  • Illinois – Lawmakers are currently considering a bill, SB 828, which would allow 20,000 incarcerated people the right to vote while serving a felony sentence. In recent weeks, state groups supporting the legislation have held lobby days and town halls to sustain momentum for the bill. Groups supporting the reform include Chicago Votes, the Illinois Environmental Council, the League of Women Voters of Chicago and the Illinois Alliance for Reentry & Justice.
  • Oregon – Policymakers in Oregon considered HB 4147 in February. The bill would have restored voting rights to roughly 12,000 to 15,000 incarcerated Oregonians.  The Sentencing Project is working with the Oregon Justice Resource Center and Next Up Oregon to connect with incarcerated residents on next steps for the campaign.
  • New Jersey – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice launched the 1844 No More Campaign to end felony disenfranchisement and allow voting for people in prison. Currently, campaign organizers are building off of the 2019 reform that automatically restored voting rights to 83,000 residents on probation and parole.
  • New York – The NY Coalition for Full Restoration of Voting Rights worked to introduce SB 3073 and AB 6646. Passage of the bills would be the first step in a constitutional change process to allow voting in prison. In New York, changing the state’s constitution requires the passage of proposed changes in two successive legislative sessions. Voters would then vote for the constitutional change on a ballot referendum.
  • North Carolina – A state trial court ruled that North Carolina’s law banning many people with felony records from voting after they get out of prison is unconstitutional – authorizing voter eligibility for persons on probation or parole. The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently issued a temporary stay in the case, blocking individuals with felony convictions from registering to vote until the case is resolved.

Free the Vote in the Americas

The Sentencing Project partnered with the student-led Chilean coalition – Fundación Proyecto Reinserción – to host a virtual strategy session on expanding voting rights across the Americas.

In Chile, persons sentenced to three years or less in prison can currently vote. The Voto Preso coalition is working to end the voting ban for all persons in Chilean prisons as part of the constitutional rewrite.

Meeting participants included democracy advocates from national groups like Common Cause, Campaign Legal Center, Stand Up America, and the State Innovation Exchange. State organizers from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Virginia and Washington DC joined too.

US and Chilean advocates discussed the roots of felony disenfranchisement and strategic efforts to expand voting rights to persons in prison. Future meetings are planned to discuss strategies and tactics for incarcerated voting across the Americas in Chile, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the United States and other countries. To participate, please contact Nicole D. Porter, The Sentencing Project’s Senior Director of Advocacy.