The push to allow felons to vote in Wisconsin is growing. Thursday, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Intergovernmental Relations Committee approved a resolution that supports a statewide effort to restore voting rights for people on probation and parole in Wisconsin.
Currently approximately 65,000 Wisconsin citizens are not able to vote because of past convictions. In Wisconsin, anyone convicted of a felony who has not yet completed the terms of their sentence, including probation, incarceration and supervision, is ineligible to vote, according to the Election Commission. Incarcerated adults are also not able to vote.
Disenfranchisement also disproportionately impacts African-American voters as well, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). African Americans comprise 39% of the disenfranchised population, even though they comprise only 5% of the state’s voting age population, according to the ACLU.
WISDOM, a statewide activist group, says that people who pay taxes, such as people on probation, should still be able to vote. In the United States, over 5.3 million Americans cannot vote due to a felony conviction.
That’s the focus of the Unlock the Vote campaign, which was announced last summer. A new bill sponsored by State Sen. Lena Taylor and Democratic lawmakers is aiming to restore voting rights for felons. The bill would allow simply allow an ex-offender to vote. It will be debated by state lawmakers this fall.
This is exciting news to Peggy West, the southeast Wisconsin coordinator for Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO). West and EXPO supporters attended the County Board meeting Thursday.
“We believe that people coming out of prison should be allowed to vote,” said West. “It makes people feel like they’re engaged.
West said that in her research, ex-prisoners vote similar to non-prisoners — meaning on both sides of the aisle. She also said ending disenfranchisement could have huge impacts in swing states like Wisconsin. Just 22,748 votes separated President Donald Trump from Hilary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election in Wisconsin.
An EXPO report in 2016 said that the average length of stay for parole in Wisconsin was estimated to be 38 months or a little over three years, making Wisconsin third nationally for probation and parole sentences.
Florida recently addressed disenfranchisement, loosening restrictions. The Florida Parole Commission reported that “the overall three-year recidivism rate for all released inmates was 33.1%, while the recidivism rate for released prisoners who were given their civil rights back was 11%.”
Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Sequanna Taylor was a co-sponsor of the resolution. She spoke in favor of it during the meeting.
“Of course it’s about being able to vote but it’s also about people being respected,” Taylor said.
However, not every Supervisor supported the idea. Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Deanna Alexander said she agrees that a transition period for ex-offenders is good.
“I don’t know that I’m convinced that saying that just because you’re out of jail now and we’re giving you the opportunity to reintegrate back into society, we’re going to trust you to make good on your part, does that mean that you should be able to do everything immediately? I don’t think it does,” she said during the meeting.
The bills also address “prison-based gerrymandering,” or the practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the area where their correctional facilities are located. The set of bills will focus on instead counting inmates as members of their districts of last residence.