Voting rights are one of the principal responsibilities of American citizens. We have the privilege of voting for those willing to represent the issues that matter to us in Congress and the House of Representatives. However, not everyone has the right to vote, or that right is taken away. In September of 2020, we discussed prisoner voting rights in Idaho, but since then, Oregon lawmakers have proposed two bills that would allow those in prison regardless of their sentence to vote. So what does this have to do with Idaho?
Prisoner Voting Rights in Idaho
Currently, prisoners in Idaho can vote unless they are charged with a felony. Felons, however, cannot vote while serving their prison time, paroled, or serving probation – they may only vote once their sentence is complete. However, many election offices are unaware of this rule and rarely provide accurate statistics that reflect these rights.
This is a conditional approach to prisoner/felon voting rights like many other states. At least 19 states have a similar condition for voting, while many others remove the right to vote from those In prison or parole. Two states, Virginia and Kentucky, consider those with felony convictions permanently disenfranchised, meaning those who commit a felony-level crime cannot vote at all.
Prisoner voting rights are rarely a priority for lawmakers and voters alike, but many states are reevaluating how they treat prisoners and what rights belong to those behind bars. By making a public stance for voting rights, Oregon may impact other states to do the same.
HB 2366 and SB 571
For starters, if either bill passes, Oregon will only be the third state in the U.S. to allow all people to vote regardless of their criminal record. These bills would give over 12,600 Oregon prisoners the right to vote and show that the state government is taking a strong stance against racial persecution against the disproportionate amount of incarcerated Black and African American prisoners.
There are two main proposals on the table for lawmakers: House Bill 2366 and Senate Bill 571.
- House Bill 2366 allows those convicted of a felony to register, update existing registration, and vote in elections. This proposal also specifies that the person’s address for voter registration is where they lived before incarceration. If passed, 2366 would go into effect
- Senate Bill 571 also allows convicted persons to vote and manage their registration from prison. There is no specified date for the bill to go into effect.
These proposals are a big pill to swallow for many lawmakers and voters, and getting them to pass is an uphill battle. Among the many counterpoints is the hesitance to give those accused of the most violent crimes the right to vote.
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan says, “This is an issue that I think […] is very important. […] I would need to hear the public testimony to be persuaded on why it’s important to expand this civil right to everybody.”
Why This Matters for Idaho
Secretary Fagan is not alone among lawmakers in many states, including Idaho. Every state has its justifications and hindrances to allowing prisoners the right to vote. Expanding voting rights isn’t a new effort nationally or in state governments, but in light of recent events, the fight for civil rights is invigorated among voters.
Now in 2021, citizens are confronted with the reality of police brutality and discrimination against minorities at nearly every level of the justice system. Those present at the historic protests in 2020 have provided a painful and often overwhelming picture of civil rights in America, and more voters are going to the polls with these issues at the forefront of their minds.
To change the circumstances in Idaho prisons, there would need to be a fundamental shift in how the state handles imprisonment and equips prisons and jails for the foreseeable future. Currently, many Idaho prisons and jails lack internet access and confiscate all forms of identification from detainees, which inhibits their ability to vote or register to vote if they had the right to do so.
In Boise, Idaho, detainees in the Ada County jail must follow the handbook, which contains only two instructions regarding voting.
- People convicted of a felony can’t vote unless their civil rights are restored
- Inmates can get an absentee ballot if they write to the Ada County Elections office
There are no deadlines or information about what other information is necessary to register or vote from prison.
The Future for Prisoner Voting Rights
While Idaho is far less restrictive than other states, there is still room for improvement. Perhaps Oregon’s push to provide universal voting rights will move lawmakers in the right direction, but until the system changes, it is important to ensure that your rights are protected.
If you are a felon or are serving a prison sentence/parole, you must have legal representation. Speak with an attorney at May, Rammell & Wells for the legal guidance you need backed by over 70 years of experience.