By Sheila Ferguson

The 2024 Primaries and National elections are upon us, and every eligible adult must cast their ballots. This means encouraging every disenfranchised group to register to vote and vote. Ex-offenders are one disenfranchised group needing to exert their power as every vote is critical. In some states across the U.S., felon disenfranchisement has long been a voter suppression tactic. “Felon disenfranchisement” is defined as taking away someone’s right to vote due to prior incarceration. Fortunately, Ohio Ex-offenders can have their rights to vote restored after serving their sentences.

While many states do restore the right to vote after a felon’s release, some do not. Regrettably, previously incarcerated persons in Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee lose the rights to vote permanently. Felons from Ohio who move to another state should note that they may lose the right to vote if the new state does not restore ex-felon voting rights.

Since not every state in the U.S. guarantees restoration of the right to vote after serving time, Ohioans who move to other states must learn their rights in the state level. The numbers of incarcerated and previously incarcerated Clevelanders and Ohioans is staggering. The organization Policy Matters Ohio reports that “one in 11 Ohio adults or 994,000 people have a felony conviction. And an additional one in three have a criminal record of some sort.” An ex-offender’s efforts to get back on the voting rolls can be complicated by:

• Fears about coming in contact with governmental systems,
• A lack of knowledge about your eligibility in Ohio in order to resume voting after release, and
• Not knowing the process of how to register to vote.

To prepare for the election, eligible Ohio ex-offenders must go to the polls to vote. Here are the rules in Ohio:
• Any eligible voter can vote before they are convicted of a crime and after the completion of their sentence.
• Incarcerated felons in prison cannot vote in Ohio.

You can also vote while:
• Waiting for arraignment (when the judge reads the formal charges against you)
• Waiting for your trial
• Waiting to see if you are convicted of a felony (you can still vote after being charged but before you are convicted)
• Waiting to go to jail or prison
• On parole or probation
• Appealing felony charges or a felony conviction
• You can also vote immediately after you get out of jail or prison; if you are in jail awaiting your trial, you can use an absentee ballot to vote

Overall, a felony conviction in Ohio does not take away your voting rights forever. In Ohio, restoration of the right to vote allows the convicted felon to vote in federal and local elections once:
• They are released from their prison sentence; their name comes off the felony conviction list maintained by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. [Note: an individual’s voting rights are not restored until their name is removed from the list.]

It is recommended that you can help the process by:
• Registering to vote as a first-time voter
• Re-registering to vote when you have not voted in years. You can register to vote even if you don’t have: A permanent address and a government-issued photo ID

In December, 2023, Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer passed House Bill 4983. The law prevents voter disenfranchisement by automatically registering ex-prisoners to vote when they are released from prison. Like Ohio, Michigan citizens lose their right to vote when convicted of a felony. But now, after release, they can reclaim that right. In Michigan, ex-prisoners will be notified by mail that they have been newly registered to vote, along with the option to decline, which requires that the Secretary of State’s office and the Department of Corrections ensure eligible people are registered to vote when released from incarceration. The Law takes effect on June 30, 2025.

Clevelanders, please help get the word out to Ohio ex-offenders and their families, friends and neighbors. It is critical to giving more Black and Brown people their power through the right to vote!

Resources:
• FindLaw Staff and Steven J. Ellison, Esq.
• Pro.con.org State Voting Laws & Policies for People with Felony Convictions – Felon Voting – ProCon.org
• Policy Matters Ohio

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