Voting eligibility for released felons may be in limbo

Maryland

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WDVM) — With the general election just weeks away many states are deciding if felons, or those who have served time in prison, can be eligible to vote.

Florida, which brought us such election chaos 20 years ago, is at the center of the controversy. A federal court there has ruled that, while felons are entitled to vote after serving their time, a felon who has unpaid fines, or owes fees, is considered “not to have fully served their sentence.” Voting rights advocates right here in our area think the court has gone too far.

“People who are convicted of crimes, I think they should serve their time,” says Bernadette Wager of Hagerstown, “but once their time is served we want them to be fully engaged productive, active citizens and that includes we want to encourage them to vote.”

Gatekeepers is a non-profit that helps released prisoners mainstream in society, finding jobs, housing, support groups to prevent recidivism. Jonathan Davis is an information technology specialist who does volunteer work for the group.

“I don’t think anybody should lose their voting rights unless they’ve committed voter fraud,” Davis says. It all comes down to the definition of completing one’s sentence. The Florida court insists that not paying off fines and fees means you are still ineligible to go to the polls.

“It’s one man one vote,” says Davis. “If you really believe in a democracy then everybody should get a chance to vote.” Florida has 85,000 released felons. A subsequent federal court ruling could affect every state.

With the election just weeks away, resolving the issue is not entirely clear but many advocates for the disenfranchised are calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

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