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Can a felon vote?

Recently, I took it upon myself to conduct an unscientific poll. I've asked colleagues, political activists and friends whether a Hoosier convicted of a felony can vote. Most said no, and others were uncertain. That tells me that it's likely that the majority of Hoosiers are under the impression that if you've committed a felony — when it comes to voting —it's one strike, and you're out.

That mistaken impression has led to thousands of disenfranchised voters in Indiana who think that, because they've been incarcerated, they can no longer participate in the voting rights guaranteed them by the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. This de facto voter disenfranchisement ripples across generations and communities, creating entire classes of people who don't exercise their rights to vote.

Indiana law restores a person's right to vote after he or she is no longer incarcerated. One reason it's so common to think that former felons are permanently barred from voting is that 35 states have stricter voting restrictions for felons than Indiana, and, in 13 of those states, a felon can permanently lose the right to vote. But in Indiana, the loss of suffrage applies only during the actual time of incarceration.

Why should you care? People who vote are more likely to volunteer, give to charities and attend school board meetings. Former felons who vote are less likely to be re-arrested, because voting helps people connect and become part of something positive.

The disproportionate number of African-Americans affected by voter disenfranchisement, more than 1.5 million across the U.S., is an even more stunning number when you consider that one in every 15 black men age 18 and older is incarcerated, and the zero-tolerance policies in our schools have created a pipeline straight to prison for many black teenage dropouts in our communities. When such a large portion of the community is locked in the criminal justice system, you can be sure their interests are not represented either at the polls or in the halls of power.

If you're a felon, and you're no longer incarcerated, you have the right to vote. If you're on probation, or on parole, you have the right to vote. If you're placed in a community corrections program, or subject to home detention, under Indiana law, you still have the right to vote.

Voting is a constitutional right, and it's one all Hoosiers should be proud to exercise.

Gilbert Holmes, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana
April 04, 2012

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