Millions of Americans are barred from the polls because of felony convictions. Voting is a fundamental right and a cornerstone of our democracy, yet millions of Americans have had their right to vote revoked for periods ranging from the time spent incarcerated to a lifetime.
In some states, you can lose your right to vote for life. The ACLU is fighting to restore the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people so that they, like all Americans, will be heard.
In a democracy, voting is a right, not a privilege. Yet in our democracy, well over five million Americans are unable to participate in this most basic, fundamental right of citizenship because of past criminal convictions. As many as four million of these people live, work, and raise families in our communities, but because of past convictions are still denied the right to vote. Studies have shown that the benefits of voting are numerous. Individuals who vote generally help to make their communities safer and more vibrant by giving to charity, volunteering, attending school board meetings, serving on juries and participating more actively in their communities. Research has also shown that individuals who vote are less likely to be rearrested.
Voter suppression laws, including felony disfranchisement, disproportionately impact people and communities of color.
In Hawaii, Native Hawaiians are more likely to be sentenced to prison and lose their voting rights than any other group. The development of felony disfranchisement law is tied to the history of racial discrimination in America. In 1870, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed banning race-based disfranchisement. In order to restrict the political participation of newly enfranchised African-Americans, Southern states began to use criminal disfranchisement laws as a tool to suppress the African-American vote. While disfranchisement laws already existed, a number of Southern states tailored their laws to target African-Americans. For example, Mississippi revised its constitution to impose disfranchisement as a penalty specifically for crimes of which African-Americans were most frequently convicted. Over 100 years later, these laws remain in effect.
- The United States disfranchises more individuals than any other nation in the world.
- Around 6,000 Hawaii residents are barred from voting because of the state’s felony disfranchisement law.
- Native Hawaiians make up almost 40% of convicted felons in the state – despite comprising only 20% of the total population.
- Around 2340 Native Hawaiians are barred from voting because of Hawaii’s felony disfranchisement law.
- Native Hawaiians are denied their right to vote at a rate nearly three times higher than that of the general population.
The scope and impact of the disenfranchisement laws in the United States are beyond comparison, especially with regard to the continued deprivation of voting rights after incarceration. Of the 5.3 million Americans barred from voting due to a criminal conviction, most of which are non-violent in nature, thirty-nine percent have fully completed their sentences, including probation and parole, yet such individuals are still deprived of their right to vote. In several states, people with criminal records encounter a variety of other barriers to voting, including, most often, cumbersome restoration processes or lengthy waiting periods before rights restoration applications may even be submitted.
The ACLU is fighting to restore the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people so that they, like all Americans, can exercise their political voice.
Hawaii Disfranchisement Law
Individuals convicted of a felony in state or federal courts are barred from voting while incarcerated. Individuals convicted of misdemeanor offenses are not barred from voting, but must vote by absentee ballot if incarcerated. Once an individual has been released from incarceration the right to vote is automatically restored, but an individual must register (or re-register) to vote. Incarcerated pre-trial detainees DO have the right to vote, but must vote by absentee ballot.
Who Is Disfranchised in Hawaii?
An estimated 6,014 people are barred from voting in Hawaii. This includes individuals incarcerated in Hawaii along with Hawaii prisoners in for-profit mainland facilities.
Voting Improves Public Safety
Felony disfranchisement runs counter to the goal of public safety. Restricting voting rights does not prevent crime, nor does it provide compensation to victims. In fact, disfranchisement is antithetical to the reentry process and harmful to long term prospects for sustainable reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into society. Research shows that formerly incarcerated individuals who vote are less likely to be rearrested. People who voted after release from supervision were half as likely to be rearrested as those who did not vote; 27% of nonvoters were rearrested, compared to 12% of people who had voted.
Far from making streets safer, felony disfranchisement may be detrimental to public safety. Voting demonstrates an individual’s commitment to the institutions of American democracy. Individuals who vote are more likely to give to charity, volunteer, attend school board meetings, serve on juries, be interested in politics, and cooperate with fellow citizens on community affairs. When children see their parents voting, they are more likely to vote as adults. Encouraging civic participation among people with criminal records is in the public interest.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
If a poll worker denies you the right to vote, speak with the voting assistance official or precinct chair. If they do not allow you to vote, ask them to contact the Office of Elections hotline.
- If you were convicted of a felony in a state or federal court, you can vote if you are not currently incarcerated.
- If you were convicted of a misdemeanor, you can vote, but you have to vote by absentee ballot if you are still incarcerated.
- Once you have been released from incarceration, you can register or re-register to vote.
- You do not need to show any special documentation. If you don’t have photo or other identification, you will be asked your birthday and residence address to corroborate the information provided in the poll book.
Vote to empower yourself, your family and your community. Vote so that the needs of your community are addressed by those in office. Vote because your voice is important and deserves to be heard.
Click here for more information about voting in the 2012 general election with a criminal conviction.
If you have any problems at the polling booth, ask to immediately speak with the Voting Assistance Official and/or the Precinct Chair. If they refuse or are unable to assist you, ask that they contact the Office of Elections via the voting hotline.
You can also contact the ACLU of Hawaii at firstname.lastname@example.org.