Smoke but No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened is available now from Amazon or your local bookseller.

Four Steps You Can Take Right Now to End Felony Disenfranchisement

Step One: Learn about felony disenfranchisement.

An informed electorate is a powerful electorate.

  • The Sentencing Project has a number of publications about felony disenfranchisement, including this primer from June 2019.
  • Check out this interactive map from the ACLU.
  • See where your favorite Democratic presidential primary candidate stands on the issue.

Step Two: Let Florida know we are watching.

Until recently, Florida had one of the most restrictive felony disenfranchisement laws in the country. In 2018, the Florida electorate approved a state constitutional amendment (“Amendment 4”) that automatically restored voting rights to people with felony convictions once they were released from prison and had completed their terms of parole or probation. Amendment 4 would have restored the voting rights of over one million people.

But the actual bill signed into law by Republican Florida Governor Ron deSantis in 2019 added the requirement that people must pay outstanding fines and fees in full before their voting rights can be restored.  This created a significant voting barrier for poor people with felony convictions. Although a federal judge later agreed that the right to vote cannot be based on economic status, the court did not provide an easy or clear path forward to vote for people who cannot pay their fines and fees.

  • Read more about the Florida “fines and fees” provisions and the federal court ruling here.
  • Last Thursday, Florida’s Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion, agreeing that people with felony convictions have to pay their back fines and fees before they can vote. If their opinion is followed, poor people with felony convictions will surely be kept out of the voting booth in 2020.
  • Join the people who successfully fought for Amendment 4 here and get involved to ensure that people’s ability to vote is not tied to their ability to pay.

Step Three: Support Crystal Mason.

Crystal Mason, who I talked about in my speech at the 2020 NYC Women’s March, is still facing five years in prison for illegally voting in Texas while on federal supervision.

  • Learn more about Crystal’s story here.
  • Read Crystal’s recent opinion piece in the Washington Post.
  • Contribute to her gofundme page.

Step Four: Fight to End Mass Incarceration. 

All states, except Vermont and New Hampshire, do not allow people in prison to vote. We can fight to allow people in prison to vote. And we can also fight to reduce the number of people in prison in the first place. Here’s a series of reform proposals to reduce mass incarceration and improve our criminal justice system overall.

There is no reason to link voting with a criminal record. Let’s work to obtain the right to vote for all Americans. Every vote matters.

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