Luis Unlocks His Vote
by Thomas MacMillan | Sep 25, 2012 1:01 pm
Posted to: Social Services
Luis Vargas stopped by Project M.O.R.E. to see his counselor and found a cheerful woman offering to register him to vote.
“I don’t think I can vote because I’m a felon,” Vargas said.
Au contraire, replied the woman, Melissa Lavoie (at left in photo) of the city’s prison re-entry initiative. Lavoie was on hand Tuesday at Project MORE, a support center for ex-offenders, to help kick off a campaign to educated ex-felons about their voting rights and sign them up to cast ballots in November.
It’s a commonly held misconception that people who have been in prison have lost the right to vote, said Althea Marshall Brooks, the director of the city’s re-entry initiative as of three months ago. While prisoners can’t vote while they are in jail or out on parole or if they’ve been convicted of voter fraud, they can vote after they are released and while they’re on probation, she said.
The re-entry initiative’s Unlock the Vote campaign aims to make that information more widely known. Staffers will be partnering with local community organizations to help educate and register ex-offenders. The effort is designed to encourage people from returning from prison to do more than just vote, Brooks said. Registration can be a stepping stone to becoming more “civicly engaged,” to speaking out and reclaiming one’s voice after incarceration, Brooks said.
Vargas, who’s 29 and said he’s been out of prison for over four years, bent over a voter registration form and filled in his name and address with a blue ballpoint pen.
He said he had been sure that felons couldn’t vote, but said he wasn’t sure where he’d gotten that idea. “From the news, I guess.”
“I don’t even know why felons shouldn’t vote,” Vargas said. Everyone deserves a second chance, he said. “People make mistakes, you know.”
Lavoie and Yale student volunteer and Democratic Ward 1 committee co-chair Nia Holston educated not just ex-offenders during their time at Project M.O.R.E. on Tuesday. They also opened the eyes of Kenley Deloatch (at right in photo), who works for the state Department of Corrections at a work-release program in Waterbury, said he didn’t know released prisoners could vote. “They can vote. I never knew that.”
Lavoie registered Deloatch to vote for the first time in his life.
Brooks said Unlock the Vote will team up with non-partisan voter registration efforts by the housing authority and the NAACP.
Overhearing that, ex-offender Nicholas Battaglino questioned the non-partisan nature of the Unlock the Vote campaign. “I think people are targeting the minority vote. They’re trying to get Obama re-elected.”
If people want to inform ex-offenders, “maybe they should teach people to read the [probation] handbook,” which explicitly states that people on probation can vote,” said Battaglino, a registered Hamden Republican who said he’s been out of prison for a year and a half.
Lavoie said Unlock the Vote is “absolutely not” a partisan effort. “They can write in Homer Simpson [for president] for all we care.”
In other parts of the country this campaign season, Republican voting officials have been working against the the largely non-existent problem of voter fraud, by pushing through new voter ID laws that could disenfranchise thousands of voters, most of whom would be poor and African-American.
Lavoie said Unlock the Vote will hold another registration event at New Haven Adult Education on Oct. 3.
Tags: prison re-entry, ex-offenders, voting rights, election
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“by pushing through new voter ID laws that could disenfranchise thousands of voters,most of whom would be poor and African-American”.
Let`s not forget the intended targets of these
right-wing voter fraud zealots; Latino residents especially in the South and Midwest.
By claiming “voter fraud” and suggesting that
“illegal aliens” will overwhelm the system, they hope that there will be a chill on voting.
We should actively support all efforts to reg-
ister people and encourage them to vote!