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District of Columbia residents flooded the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics in a last minute effort to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election, including people who had previously been incarcerated for felony convictions.
The deadline to register for all D.C. residents and in most states was Mon., Oct. 6.
Five hundred voter registration applications of ex-offenders were hand- carried into the office of the Board of Elections by Peaceoholics founder Ronald “Mo” Moten, who spearheaded the drive to get ex-offenders registered to vote.
“Our voices will be heard from this day on,’” said Moten who is an ex-offender.
There are more than 60,000 ex-offenders living in the District, according to Moten. Twenty-five hundred are returned to the District each year from federal prisons, and 19,000 are in and out of the DC Jail each year.
“You can’t stop crime if you don’t help change the social ills that caused the criminal activity,” Moten said. “A lot of these crimes are poverty crimes.”
Moten announced at a press conference outside of One Judiciary Square where the Board of Elections is located, that the Peaceoholics reached its goal of registering to vote more than 3,000 ex-offenders.
The ultimate goal of the Peaceoholics is to register the more than 60,000 ex-offenders residing in the District registered to vote within the next two years.
“Once we do that nobody can stop our agenda, which is to make sure we are treated as citizens,” Moten said. “We want to have an equal playing field like everyone else.”
Many ex-offenders who live in the District are unaware that they can vote. According to Dan Murphy, spokesperson for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, ex-offenders have a legal right to vote in the District, even if they have been previously incarcerated for a felony or under court supervision. A person awaiting trial while in jail also has a right to vote by absentee ballot as well as a person who was convicted on misdemeanor charges.
Forty-eight states, and the District, prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense, according to the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group for reform in sentencing laws.
In 2007, the Maryland legislature repealed all provisions of the state’s lifetime voting ban, including the three-year waiting period after completion of sentence for certain categories of offences, and instituted an automatic restoration policy for all persons upon completion of sentence.
The Virginia legislature passed a law in 2000 enabling certain ex-offenders to apply to the circuit court for the restoration of their voting rights five years after the completion of their sentence. Those convicted of felony drug offenses must wait seven years after completion of sentence. The circuit court’s decision is subject to the Governor’s approval.
According to the Sentencing Project, felony disenfranchisement has a disproportionate impact on African American men.
It estimates that 1.4 million African- American men, or 13 percent, are disenfranchised, a rate seven times the national average. Given current rates of incarceration, said the Sentencing Project, three in 10 of the next generation of Black men can expect to be disenfranchised at some point in their lifetime. In states that disenfranchise ex-offenders, as many as 40 percent of Black men may permanently lose their right to vote.