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November 5, 2012 (The New York Times)

“Wrongly Turning Away Ex-Offenders”

Policies that deny voting rights to people who have paid their debt to society offend fundamental tenets of democracy.

The United States maintains a shortsighted and punitive set of laws, some of them dating back to Reconstruction, denying the vote to people who have committed felonies--- approximately 5.85 million people, according to a report from The Sentencing Project, State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010.

But the problem is made even worse by state and local election officials so poorly informed about the law that they misinform or turn away people who have a legal right to vote.

In Minnesota last week, the State Supreme Court issued an order that clarified a state law that denies the vote to people with felony convictions until they have their voting rights restored.  The case involved a woman whose probation office told her that she was ineligible to vote.  She had pleaded guilty in 2010 to felony possession of marijuana, but had not been convicted of a felony.

In an affidavit, a local lawyer told of questioning prosecutors, county elections officials and others about the voting rights of similarly situated people without getting a definitive answer.

This kind of problem is not uncommon.

A 2005 study by The Sentencing Project, A ‘Crazy-Quilt’ of Tiny Pieces: State and Local Administration of American Criminal Disenfranchisement Law, found that 37 percent of public officials surveyed in 10 states either misstated a central provision of the voter eligibility law or were unsure about what the law said.

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Racial Disparity, Felony Disenfranchisement, Collateral Consequences