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Serving People from Arrest to Reintegration

My First Vote

  • Organization: Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
  • Document Type: Report
  • Date Created: Sunday, July 05, 2009
  • Submitted: Monday, July 20, 2009
  • Attachment(s): PDF

My First Vote is a compilation of stories from people across the country who voted for the first time in November 2008 after having lost, and then regained, their right to vote following a criminal conviction.

Despite the large voter turnout in November, there remains one significant blanket barrier to the franchise. 5.3 million American citizens are not allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction. As many as 4 million of these people live, work, pay taxes, and raise families in our communities, but because of a convictionin their past are still denied the right to vote.

35 states continue to deny the right to vote to people who are no longer in prison. That is only half the story. Repeated surveys by the Brennan Center and others have found that many elections officials across the country are unclear on the rules in their states for reinstating voting rights, meaning that even when people with convictions are eligible, they are often wrongly turned away.

Bringing people into the political process makes them stakeholders in their government, while barring them from the polls disrupts reentry into the community. Voting affirms the returning community member's value, encourages civic participation and helps rebuild ties to fellow citizens.

The stories in My First Vote represent a small sample of the Americans who have returned to their communities, and to the polls, as full citizens. They show the real difference that voting makes in people's lives.

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