Press Release: 2021-05-04
Beacon Hill Voted to Uphold Disenfranchisement --- Behind Closed Doors
In only two states -- Vermont and Maine -- individuals with felony convictions never lose their right to vote.
Massachusetts used to be another, until that right was taken away twenty years ago by both state legislators and the public in a racist backlash to political organizing by incarcerated individuals.
Full enfranchisement provides individuals with a link to the outside community that facilitates the goals of rehabilitation and reentry and recognizes that the right to vote is sacred and should not be taken away when the flaws and biases of our criminal legal system are so clear.
Over the past few years, activists have been pushing for Massachusetts to restore voting rights, but the Legislature, given an opportunity to do so last week, instead voted down a proposal --- and did so in secret.
Because the House and Senate have yet to agree on a set of Joint Rules (including how and whether to post committee votes), no vote was posted.
By hiding how they voted, the MA legislature continues endorsing and affirming our racist history of disenfranchisement without accountability to the public - a dual loss for democracy.
So what's next?
Although the Legislature gave an adverse report to the full goal of voting rights restoration, there is still important work to be done to ensure that those who do still have the right to vote are able to exercise that right.
Citizens who are incarcerated on non-felony convictions or held on pre-trial convictions retain their right to vote. But without a system in place to provide these citizens with access to ballot applications, voting materials, and deadlines, that right is rendered meaningless.
This leads to a de facto disenfranchisement of as many as 10,000 incarcerated citizens.
Sen. Adam Hinds and Reps. Liz Miranda and Chynah Tyler have a bill this session -- the Jail-Based Voting Act -- to create a long overdue system to provide citizens behind the wall with meaningful access to the ballot.
The bill would require sheriffs to provide all eligible voters ballot applications, voting materials, and a private place to vote; improve registration of returning citizens; create a robust data reporting system for such work; and more.
Issues Committee, Progressive Mass