It’s time to unlock the vote in America

By mid-2022, millions of Americans were unable to vote. They were left without a voice, without a voice as to who represents them and the policies that guide their lives.

A new study from The Sentencing Project revealed that 4.6 million Americans are ineligible to vote because they were a current or former felon. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of jailed voters found themselves unable to vote from behind the wall – even though they were eligible to vote.

This is unacceptable in today’s democracy. Here in Connecticut and at the national level, we must take action to correct these mistakes and make our democracy stronger in our community.

First, we must ensure that every eligible person who is incarcerated has the opportunity to vote. Today, the vast majority of incarcerated people are still eligible to vote. This is often because they have been jailed before trial or simply convicted of a misdemeanor. Regardless of their eligibility, these people often find themselves unable to vote due to misinformation, lack of leadership among government officials and institutional systems that make it impossible to vote. elections.

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It is the responsibility of our community to ensure that every eligible voter – including those in prison – can vote. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it benefits our community. When we encourage incarcerated people to vote, they often begin to feel a sense of responsibility and connection to their community, as well as a belief in the power of public voice in our shared democracy. Making it easier for people to vote in prison will also support the legal right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. These parents would be given a voice in school board elections and other elections that directly affect them and their families.

At the same time, we must also end the lack of legal rights. These laws have no purpose in our society; it is a remnant of the ancient times when people who broke the law were banished from their community and were destined to suffer “public death.” These laws were revived in America in the 19th century as states adopted them to exclude black and brown Americans from voting.

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Today, there is no purpose for these laws. It is not an inherent part of criminal punishment, and it does nothing to return people to their communities. No other democratic country in the world denies so many people the right to vote because of criminal charges.

We often hear critics say that if incarcerated people or people with criminal convictions had their right to vote, they would vote to ease the punishment laws. This argument assumes that there is something intrinsic to the criminal mind – that the person who committed the crime has always been a criminal. It ignores that there are blatant policies of racism and discrimination in America that create poverty, low educational attainment and lack of opportunity – all of which fuel our carceral state. Worse, it leaves our society no longer able to keep those policies in place.

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In many cases, instead of being “soft on crime,” we see that incarcerated people are more concerned with changing the system of racism and classism that has brought poverty between generations. and lack of opportunities. We see them focusing on fixing a broken system, focusing on unproductive punishment rather than rehabilitation.

Instead of focusing on silencing people’s voices, we must focus on ending mass incarceration and higher levels of evolution. As long as the incarcerated are incarcerated without choice, our society stands incomplete, incomplete in thought, and incomplete in theory.

It’s time to open the polls in America.

James Jeter is a co-founder of the Full Citizens Coalition.

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