The right to vote is fundamental to our Nation’s democracy and should be guaranteed to every citizen.
“No taxation without representation” was a major tenant of freedom when the United States was founded. However, across the 200+ year history of this country, various groups of people have had to fight to obtain this fundamental right. Right now, system-impacted individuals and their allies are engaging in this same fight! Individuals who have been convicted of a felony cannot vote while they are inside AND they are also barred from voting while they are on probation, parole, or on extended community supervision. We are citizens, we pay taxes, and we deserve our right to vote.
African American men were granted the right to vote BUT Jim Crow laws prevented them from exercising this right until much later.
The women’s suffrage movement fought long and hard for their voting rights and earned them. However, it did not apply to African American women.
Through the Indian Citizenship Act, Native Americans of all tribes were granted their right to vote.
2019 – Current
System-impacted individuals in Wisconsin fight for the right to vote in EXPO’s Unlock the Vote campaign!
- 6,100,000 – The number of Americans who cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement
- 4,697,000 – The number of Americans who cannot vote and are NOT in prison.
- 3,050,000 – The number of Americans who cannot vote and are NOT in prison, on parole, or on probation. They are only on extended community supervision.
The number of Wisconsinites who cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement.
If you have completed your sentence you can vote!
Courts and the Department of Corrections make it very clear that a person who has been sentenced for a felony conviction loses their right to vote. However, they are not clear about the fact that once your sentence is completed in full your full rights are restored!
How do I vote after my sentence is complete?
- Get registered to vote at my vote.wi.us
- Research the candidates to see who aligns with your values
- Go to my vote.wi.us (again) to find out your polling place and who will be on your ballot
- On voting day, GO VOTE! *You can also participate in early voting or get an absentee ballot if you are unable to make it to the polls.
What can I do to unlock the vote?
- Sign on as a coalition partner
- Volunteer to canvass or phone bank
- Invite EXPO leaders to give an Unlock the Vote presentation at your organization or place of worship
- Call senators and assembly people to ask for their support of Unlock the Vote!
Please sign the petition here:
Arguments for restoring voting rights
Voting supports individuals in feeling connected to their communities. In doing so, it can contribute to reducing recidivism. In fact, the Florida Parole Commission reports that while “the overall three-year recidivism rate” was 33.1%, the recidivism rate for people released from prison who were given their civil rights back was 11%. Further, the Berkeley Law Journal concluded that “states which permanently disenfranchise people with previous criminal histories experience significantly higher repeat offense rates than states that do not.” Restoring voting rights is essential for reducing the number of Americans who are incarcerated.
Restoring voting rights will also contribute to our country and state’s pursuit of racial equity and justice. Currently, more than two million African-Americans (almost 8 percent of black adults) are prevented from voting because of felony convictions, compared to just under 2 percent of non-African-American citizens. In Wisconsin, one out of every 9 African Americans are disenfranchised in comparison to 1 out of every 50 Wisconsin voters. Finally, given that the length of stay for parole in Wisconsin is on average over 3 years (1.7 times the national average), we disenfranchise more African-Americans for longer than many other states.
Twenty-three other states have implemented measures to expand voter eligibility. In particular, fourteen states and the District of Columbia currently automatically allow people with previous criminal histories to register to vote after being released from jail or prison, even if they are on probation, parole, or supervision. To overturn felony disenfranchisement in these states, they used a number of advocacy approaches we can also use in Wisconsin:
- Tailoring our arguments to the constituencies (the public and lawmakers) they want to persuade.
- Take advantage of research on felony disenfranchisement to develop arguments to ease legislators’ fears.
- Use related court rulings as focusing events.
- Propose moderate, first-step policies.
- Build a coalition of diverse stakeholders including public figures, Republication and Democratic politicians, and nonprofits.
In 2009, the Brennan Center worked with the Wisconsin ACLU, the Wisconsin League of Women Voters, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Equality Wisconsin, Institute for One Wisconsin, the American Probation and Parole Association, Disability Rights Wisconsin, State Rep. Tamara Grigsby, and Senator Lena Taylor to propose the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act to restore voting rights to people on probation and parole. It passed out of committee but failed in the legislature.
In 2019, WI legislators began working with EXPO, Wisdom, the ACLU of WI, Project Return, Wisconsin Voices, Justified Anger (Madison), and Just Leadership USA to propose “The Unlock the Vote” Act to restore voting rights to people on probation and parole. The Unlock the Vote Campaign seeks to reengage the disenfranchised voters throughout Wisconsin.
On January 31, 2022, Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire) and Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) introduced the Unlock the Vote bill Package aimed at protecting one’s right to vote, and fair representation.
In Wisconsin, an estimated 65,000 Wisconsin residents are under some form of community corrections and cannot vote. According to a recent study from Columbia University, 60% of those people are on parole, probation, or extended supervision. For those that are reentering communities across the state, there is an expectation that they will secure employment, pay taxes, and rejoin society. There should also be an expectation that they would regain their right to participate in the political process, via restoration of their voting rights after release from prison.
The Unlock the Vote package responds to these concerns, with the following bills:
- LRB-5098 relating to: establishing a plan to register qualified electors who are detained in jail and to allow the electors to vote while detained.
- LRB-5182 relating to: restoring the right to vote to certain persons barred from voting as a result of a felony conviction, changing the information required on voter registration forms, and changing voting procedure for certain persons who are convicted of felonies.
- LRB-5183 relating to: automatic voter registration, deceptive election practices, voter intimidation and suppression, voter rights, polling place posting and language requirements, election manual requirements, granting rule-making authority, and providing a penalty.
- LRB-5936 relating to: counting individuals confined in state prison to determine population for redistricting purposes.
Please sign the petition here: