Another session I attended today at ALA Virtual Conference was called Civic Duty? Libraries and the Disenfranchised. The speakers were Katharine Ellera, an international legal advisor on enfranchisement, Nicole Porter from The Sentencing Project, and Leslie Purdie, who works in a prison library.
The presentation was packed with facts, which I couldn’t write down quickly enough. But I’ll give some highlights here:
Disenfranchisement isn’t only about not having the legal right to vote. It’s also about barriers to voting. Many differrent groups around the world face barriers such as: people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, indigenous peoples, internally displaced persons, those with criminal convictions, women, ethnic minorities. In America, many states don’t even allow international observers, which is a huge red flag. There are undue obstacles for many segments of the population.
A lot was said about the disenfranchisement of people convicted of a felony — in many states that’s for life. In some states, this penalty is only for certain crimes — and the crimes were chosen as ones black people were more likely to commit. Crimes that more often are committed by white people don’t have the same penalty. In one state (I forget which one), you’d lose your right to vote for beating your wife, but not for murdering her.
There have been recent reforms — but many of the people affected — out of prison and living in communities — don’t know that their voting rights were restored.
Voting is a prosocial activity. When former prisoners are allowed to vote, it reduces recidivism.
Libraries can partner with local organizations such as the local Elections Board or nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters to get information into the community about voting rights.