Voting is a constitutional right, and it's one all Hoosiers should be proud to exercise. But thousands of Indiana citizens think that because they've been incarcerated, they can no longer participate in the voting rights guaranteed to them by the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. This de facto voter disenfranchisement ripples across generations and communities, creating an entire class of people who don't exercise their rights to vote.
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 rearrested, because voting helps people connect and become part of something positive. 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.
If you are no longer incarcerated, you have the right 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. In Indiana, the right to vote is lost only during the actual time of incarceration.
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, their interests surely are not represented either at the polls or in the halls of power.
Note: A version of this story authored by Gilbert Holmes, ACLU of Indiana Executive Director from 2008 to 2012, ran as letter to the editor in The Indianapolis Star, March 30, 2012.