An Open Letter To Presidential Candidates On Voting Rights

WASHINGTON - A diverse coalition of local, statewide and national organizations delivered an open letter to 2020 presidential candidates on Tuesday calling on them to publicly commit to ending felony disenfranchisement and restoring voting rights for all citizens, regardless of their criminal history. The letter comes amid recent debate over whether incarcerated people, including those convicted of terrorism, should be able to vote. Signers of the letter include The Justice Collaborative, the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change, Demos, and the Right2Vote Campaign.

An estimated 6.1 million American citizens with felony convictions were barred from voting in the 2016 presidential election alone, a race that was decided by just 79,316 votes, the signers write in the letter.

As the groups explain in the letter, a large body of research shows that letting formerly incarcerated people vote fosters skills and capacities which are rehabilitative, and is significantly correlated with reducing re-arrest, incarceration, and self-reported criminality.

Two states - Maine and Vermont - as well as Puerto Rico already treat the right to vote as a bedrock democratic principle for all citizens, including those in prison. Advocates, people in prison, and even corrections officials in these states say voting allows incarcerated people to maintain a sense of connection to the community and society at large, which in turn helps prepare them for life after prison.

The groups also note the racialized history of felony disenfranchisement laws and their continued disproportionate impact on communities of color. “In the 2016 election, 7.4 percent of all African American adults were disenfranchised as a result of a felony conviction, a rate four times higher than the rest of the population,” the letter reads. “In Kentucky, a full quarter of the black electorate cannot vote today due to felony disenfranchisement. Latinx communities are also disenfranchised at rates greater than the general population.”