Reports Show Widespread Confusion About The Voting Rights Of People With Criminal Records

For Immediate Release

ACLU
Contact: 

Will Matthews, ACLU, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Susan Lehman, Brennan Center for Justice, (212) 998-6318; susan.lehman@nyu.edu

Reports Show Widespread Confusion About The Voting Rights Of People With Criminal Records

Misinformation Could Disenfranchise Hundreds Of Thousands Of Eligible Voters

NEW YORK - A
report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the
Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reveals
widespread misunderstanding among state elections officials of laws
governing the right to vote of citizens with felony convictions. 

A second ACLU report, also released
today, finds that voter registration forms in states across the country
fail to clearly explain the eligibility of voters with criminal records.

Both reports highlight widespread
problems that endanger the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of
eligible voters nationally in a presidential election year.

"Unless citizens receive accurate
information about their voting rights from those sources where they
should be able to get it, large swaths of eligible voters stand to be
denied their rightful access to the voting booth," said Laleh Ispahani,
Senior Policy Counsel in the ACLU's Racial Justice Program. "The
fundamental right of every eligible voter to participate in the
political decisions of their communities must be protected."  

"De Facto Disenfranchisement,"
co-authored by the ACLU and the Brennan Center for Justice, compares
the actual eligibility laws in 15 states with responses to
eligibility-related questions from county election officials in those
states.

This report identifies widespread
confusion over when and how voting rights are restored, whether people
with out-of-state or federal convictions can vote, and voter
registration procedures for those who regain their eligibility.

Some of the more alarming findings
in "De Facto Disenfranchisement" come from states that could prove to
be pivotal in this November's presidential election. In Ohio, for
example, 30 percent of elections officials did not know if individuals
with misdemeanor convictions could vote - and they can. And more than
half of the elections officials interviewed in Colorado - a state where 46,000 people are currently on probation - did not know that people on probation could vote.

The ACLU's other report, "Voting
With a Criminal Record: How Registration Forms Frustrate Democracy,"
shows how voter registration forms - a primary source of information
about voter eligibility for potential voters - often provide
inaccurate, incomplete or misleading information about whether
individuals with criminal records are eligible to vote.

"For our democracy to function
properly and effectively, everyone who has the right to vote should be
given the chance to cast a ballot," said Erika Wood, Deputy Director of
the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. "It is unconscionable to
allow a core constitutional value to be sacrificed because of
misinformation."

5.3 million American citizens are
ineligible to vote because of criminal convictions. As many as 4
million of these people are out of prison - living, working, raising
families in the community - yet cannot vote by law because of past
convictions.

The reports make clear, however,
that this is only half the story. Untold hundreds of thousands of
additional voters are discouraged from registering and voting because
they receive incorrect or misleading information - or no information at
all - from elections and criminal justice officials and voter
registration forms.

"The jumble of registration rules -
and election officials' understandable confusion about them -
contributes to a disturbing national trend towards the de facto
disenfranchisement of people with criminal convictions," said Wood.
"The laws are varied and complex, election officials often receive no
training in them and there is little coordination with the criminal
justice system. As a result, Americans who are eligible to vote are
getting cut from the franchise at a time when voter participation and
enthusiasm is going through the roof."

The Brennan Center and the ACLU urge
regular trainings of elections and criminal justice officials and
dissemination of clear and accurate information to the public,
beginning immediately -
before October registration deadlines. Both reports also call for
clearer laws that provide swift restoration of voting rights as soon as
people are released from prison.

A copy of "De Facto Disenfranchisement" can be found online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/exoffenders/37000res20081001.html

A copy of "Voting With a Criminal Record: How Registration Forms Frustrate Democracy" can be found online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/exoffenders/37001res20081001.html

Additional information about the ACLU's work on felony disenfranchisement can be found online at: www.aclu.org/righttovote

Additional information about the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School can be found online at: www.brennancenter.org

 

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