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There’s no easy way to estimate the number of convicted felons in the US. According to some statistics there are approximately 900,000 in the state of Michigan alone. So, let’s just say that there are 200,000 in each of the other 49 states. That number is really random and isn’t based in fact, but I thought there might actually be that many give or take a few hundred thousand in each state. There are two states where no matter what felons couldn’t vote so we will subtract them from the total. That gives us 200,000 convicted felons in the remaining 47 states for a total of 9.4 million convicted felons living in states where, if they have served their time and completed their probation or parole (and in some states a few other stipulations), they can vote on November 6,2012. Think about the impact that could have on the election. With faulty math and all, the reality is there is good sense in the logic.

There is potentially a group of voters out there that could have a huge impact on the outcome of the 2012 election. The reality is that they probably won’t.

According to a 2007 study by The Sentencing Project, in North Carolina people with felony convictions have lower registration and turnout rates than people who have never been convicted. This is both before and after their convictions. Additionally, 29 percent of people convicted of felonies were registered to vote prior to being convicted of their first felony, compared with 65 percent of the general population.

Let’s look at this a little further. In North Carolina felony convictions significantly depress registration and turnout rates:

  • Registration rates decline by half from 29 percent to 14 percent following completion of a sentence for a felony conviction.
  • Sixty-five percent of registered voters in the general population voted in 2004, compared with 44 percent of misdemeanants and 38 percent of ex-felons.
  • Low voter turnout among ex-felons in the 2004 election provides evidence that the effect of a felony conviction on electoral participation extends beyond conviction and punishment, serving as a lifelong barrier to voting.

While these statistics only represent North Carolina, think about the impact this could have across the nation. If convicted felons who meet the requirements to vote actually registered and voted in the upcoming election it could be monumental. And while there is a quiet murmur among political circles around this issue of ex-felon disenfranchisement, there isn’t necessarily a lot of strategy going into making sure ex-felons understand that they have their citizenship rights and can vote. Well, unless you count the GOP effort to maintain, strengthen laws currently in place and stretch the efforts currently in place to make it hard for ex-felons to regain their right or have the right to vote. But I digress.

That’s where the Hip Hop Caucus comes in. The DC-based non-profit is using hip hop culture to to educate and engage urban youth 18 – 40 in the political process. The group doesn’t seek to sway their audience, as they are non-partisan; but they do hope to get people registered and active (aka at the polls on election day).

What Can You Do To Help?

  • Each one teach one. Now that you know that ex-felons can vote in most cases, tell someone else. We need to erase the myth that felons don’t have citizenship rights. Make sure that those you know who are awaiting trial also understand their rights. In some states, including North Carolina, awaiting trail for a felony conviction does not make you ineligible to vote.
  • Get’em registered. After you have shared with them their rights, get them registered to vote. In some states the process can be tedious and may require some real effort. Offer support to make sure that they get registered.
  • Know what’s going on. Knowing your rights and getting registered are the first steps to the process. The next step is being engaged in the political conversation and understanding what’s at stake. Use your networks, including social media, to raise issues, engage others in discussion and dialogue. Help people understand who and what they will be voting for in November.
  • Get’em to the polls. All your work will be in vain if they don’t show up to vote in November. Do your part to help them get to the polls. The number 1 reason most ex-felons use for not voting is they can’t make it to the polls. Don’t allow that to be their excuse. Help them get there.

Related topic: DNC 2012