Yesterday a coalition of groups, including the One Wisconsin Institute, formally launched an effort to restore voting rights to felons that have served their time in prison. Under current law, convicted felons can’t vote until after they are off probation. In some cases this disenfranchises people for decades even after they have already served their time in prison.
Even though they work, pay taxes, and raise families in our community, they are barred from fully participating. Even though the goal is that they become productive members of society, our outdated law forbids them from taking part in the most fundamental responsibility that we have as citizens. The estimate is that some 40,000 people in Wisconsin are blocked from voting because of our current law.
The Restore the Vote WI Coalition believes that felons who have served their time in prison should be able to vote immediately upon release into their communities as they do in some 15 other states including Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.
Not only do the members of the coalition hold this belief but according to a poll last fall so do a wide cross section of the public. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation reports that over two-thirds (70%) of Milwaukee County’s residents expressed support for the restoration of voting rights. Even a full 63% of Milwaukee County’s Republicans support this type of legislation, as do 66% of self-identified conservatives and 70% of self-identified moderates.
If much more conservative states can see the justice in restoring the vote, surely Wisconsin can do the same. This should not be a partisan issue and we should not allow political calculations to trump the basic rights and responsibilities of some 40,000 Wisconsinites. We should rise above all of the divisive rhetoric and restore the vote for the scores of people that are currently disenfranchised.