Josh and Katy Vander Kamp met in drug rehab. In the seven years since, they have been rebuilding their lives in Apache Junction, Ariz., a small town east of Phoenix. He’s a landscaper; she’s studying for a master’s degree in addictions counseling. They have two children, a dog and a house. Their lives reveal little of their past, except that Katy can vote and Josh can’t because he’s a two-time felon. She’s been arrested three times, but never convicted of a felony. By age 21, Josh was charged with two — for a drug-paraphernalia violation and possessing a burglary tool. “I didn’t do anything that he didn’t do, and he’s paying for it for the rest of his life,” Katy said. With voting laws a heated issue this election year as civil rights groups and state legislatures battle over photo ID requirements in this election year, felon disenfranchisement laws have attracted less attention despite the potential votes at stake.
A patchwork of restrictions in every state but Maine and Vermont keep about 5.85 million Americans with felony convictions off voting rolls, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice reform advocacy group. The report also suggests that some races are hit by these laws more than others. A felon in Maine can vote from prison using an absentee ballot, while a felon convicted of the same crime in Florida, the state with the highest percentage of disenfranchised African Americans in the nation, might never regain the right to vote — even after release.
People convicted of more than one felony in Arizona lose gun ownership and voting rights until a county court restores them. Josh Vander Kamp’s first attempt at regaining his rights failed last year. With his wife’s help, Josh Vander Kamp applied to the county court that sentenced him in both cases. About three months later he was rejected. Vander Kamp said he’s not sure why his past is still a problem. “It’s over and done with. I’ve put it behind me. I wish other people would put it behind them,” he said.