Joseph Jackson was one of the millions of Americans inspired by Barack Obama’s 2008 White House bid. A black man in the nation’s whitest state, he coordinated voter registration drives and cast his first-ever ballot for the candidate who would become the nation’s first African-American president. And he did it all while incarcerated in a maximum-security prison, serving 19 years for manslaughter. That’s because Jackson, 52, was convicted in Maine, one of just two states that allow felons to vote from behind bars. In the U.S., nearly all convicted felons are disenfranchised during their prison sentences and, often, barred from the ballot for years after release. Sometimes, offenders lose the right to vote for life.
skyrocketing incarceration rates, other states are rethinking the rules that kept 6.1 million Americans from voting in 2016. Alabama, Maryland and Wyoming have all recently eased voting restrictions for released felons, while Florida organizers have put a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot to give most ex-offenders their voting rights back after completing their sentences, including for any on probation or parole.
Meanwhile, Maine and Vermont remain unique in preserving voting right for prisoners — and serve as a model for states like New Jersey, where Democrats, newly in control of all three branches of government, plan to propose a bill to stop the disenfranchisement of felons and allow them to vote from behind bars.