Thursday, September 15, 2005

ex-felon voter registration in nebraska

Until this spring, former felons in Nebraska were permanently disenfranchised unless they received a formal pardon. Now, people who have completed their felony sentences are eligible to vote after a two-year waiting period. According to the York News-Times (which sort of sounds like another paper, doesn't it?), the League of Women Voters and the Nebraska Voting Rights Coalition are trying to register these newly-enfranchised ex-felons.

Getting the word out is a real problem. Even in Minnesota, where ex-felons can vote, I found that few of those I interviewed knew whether or when they'd become eligible. A Minneapolis man on probation told me how he went to the polls with his family and tried to vote, but was turned away as ineligible. If there's even a chance of this happening in view of one's friends and neighbors, who would even try? In some states, one must also pay off all outstanding financial obligations to the state (e.g., fines, court fees) before regaining eligibility, adding a further disincentive.

Jeff and I have some proposals for improving information and access for newly eligible voters exiting the justice system, but special efforts are required to reach those released years ago. That said, names of releasees are publicly available by cohort and there's little to stop an organization from obtaining a list of names and birthdates, looking up current addresses or phone numbers with peoplesearch engines, and doing some direct outreach.

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