Voting rights advocates are worried that the formerly incarcerated are being denied the right to vote in this election.
They point to Latasha Fason, who received a letter from the Baltimore City Board of Elections dated Oct. 10 saying she could not vote because she’d been convicted of a crime.
But Fason, a member of Out For Justice, a Baltimore-based grassroots organization led by formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, says she had served her time when she registered to vote.
“I researched the law myself so I knew that the law was in place,” she said.
Out For Justice lobbied for a 2016 law that allows people convicted of felonies to register and vote in Maryland after incarceration. The law also allows them to vote on probation and parole. A 2007 law allowed them to vote after they had completed all aspects of their sentences, including parole.
Nicole Hanson-Mundell, executive director of the organization, says she and other formerly incarcerated advocates have been fighting for their voting rights for years.
“This should not and is not a new issue,” Hanson-Mundell said.
Advocates have worked with the state board of elections to deliver informational packets to local jails across the state. In 2018, Forbes Magazine recognized Hanson-Mundell as one of eight women who made a difference in the midterm elections.
Qiana Johnson, the executive director of Life After Release, said it’s inexcusable for the board of elections to send Fason this letter.
“This is voter suppression and this is borderline criminal,” she said. “We need to talk about it like it is.”
City election director Armstead Jones told WYPR that the city board sends these letters based on information from the state board of elections.
Monica Cooper, the Executive Director of the Maryland Justice Project, said election boards cannot afford to make these mistakes.
“They do not get the chance to mess this up because we only have one time to get this right. Once Nov. 3 is gone, it is gone. It’s G-O-N-E,” Cooper said.
She said she is worried Fason is not the only formerly incarcerated person in Maryland who has received this letter.
“How many other people have they sent this to?” Cooper asked. “You would think by now that they clearly understand that this is a population, just like the rest of the general population, that you must ensure have access to the ballot.”
Copper said that suppressing the vote of formerly incarcerated people, which adversely affects people of color, is just another example of systemic racism.
“Since African Americans were brought to this shore, the suppression of the vote has been linked directly to racial discrimination,” she said.
Cooper said if the State Board of Elections supported their voting rights, they would be more proactive about ensuring they can vote. She urged the public to hold the board accountable.
“People need to stand out there with signs and demand that they do more. To keep our system 100%,” she said. “There have been elections that have been decided by three votes. Every single vote counts and I mean every single one. And that is what they get paid for. If they can't make that happen, they don't need to be there.”
Hanson-Mundell said she hopes that the letter Fason received will help their cause gain momentum.
“The hope is that because of this letter, it will garner us the support from the state Board of Elections to work with us,” she said. “To come out to every local board of elections and educate their base on how to engage with formerly incarcerated people and how to talk about formerly incarcerated people having access to the ballot.”
Hanson-Mundell said formerly incarcerated persons who have received letters like Fason’s should call Out for Justice’s hotline for help.
“You have the right to vote and you should vote,” Hanson-Mundell said.
Early voting in Maryland starts Monday, Oct. 26.
The Out For Justice hotline number is 443-692-7132.