Name a group that the Florida legislature hasn’t terrorized. I’ll wait.
Reader, I so badly wanted to hate D.C. when I visited last week (RIP Town), but now I’m ready to give up my representation in Congress and move to Swamplandia after hobnobbing with the Washington elite.
At a house party, I met a lawyer who specializes in redistricting, and I blocked him from speaking to anyone else (talk about impasse legislation, yaddamean?).
When I visited a friend at the Department of Commerce, I ended up meeting the Commander of the Census herself, Secretary Gina Raimondo (welcome to Flustered Town: population me).
And near the end of my visit, I chatted with D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen, who helped pass the 2020 law ending felony disenfranchisement in the District.
At the national level, whether — and for how long — you lose the right to vote after a criminal conviction is complicated. In fact, it requires a multi-step flow chart from the Prison Policy Initiative that is frankly impossible to read if you’re on your phone right now (I apologize to my mobile besties).
You disturbed the peace while tailgating a U Mich football game? Put that ballot down, you menace to society.
In the 11 most extreme states, you may lose the right to vote forever, and 75% of disenfranchised voters live in their communities, either having completed their sentences or under probation or parole.
As Councilmember Allen points out, this kind of perpetual punishment makes it difficult to feel like you’ve paid your debt to society.
“Except for some exceedingly rare instances, every single person who is in a detention facility is going to be coming home at some point,” he says. “And part of rehabilitation has got to be breaking the cycle of civic death. How do I get you to be inspired about your community and the future if you don’t have a say in it?”
While serving a 26-year sentence for killing a man at the age of 18, Castón was elected to the advisory neighborhood commission, which helps the city council develop its public policy. In 2021, Castón was released from the Central Detention Facility. He now lives nearby and still serves on the ANC.
Outside of the capital, other jurisdictions are questioning the demented and racist logic of stripping people of their fundamental rights.
In the last four years alone, 12 states have restored some rights — so what could possible be the bad news?
In a very predictable twist, ending felony disenfranchisement doesn’t necessarily mean that those people end up voting.
Since y’all know I love to speak ill of New York’s voting laws, let’s start with them. Before last year, the governor could restore someone’s rights only if he signed an executive pardon on a case by case basis. Often, his office didn’t communicate that information to the board of elections.
But then, the unthinkable happened: the legislature took action.
“By passing legislation that made the process automatic, it allowed folks to be able to register without any issues,” says Reggie Thedford, Deputy Political Director for Stand Up America, a voting rights nonprofit working to end felony disenfranchisement.
But even in the states where the rights restoration process is automatic, people aren’t necessarily aware that they’re able to vote — and most often no one goes out of their way to tell them.
“There’s a lot of confusion, and that’s by design,” says Thedford.
And in other states, the restoration process is punitive, cruel, or impossible to navigate. Never one to under-perform, Florida chose all three.
In 2018, voters approved a constitutional change ending the lifetime ban, to which the state’s legislators said, “Hold our beers.” They then added a requirement that you pay off all outstanding court fees, fines and restitution. But finding out whether you owe money is (un)surprisingly difficult, and if you make a mistake, the state responds in the only way it knows how: by punishing you.
However, if Florida is the model of what not to do (like, say, a Disney villain lol), D.C. is the opposite.
Along with Vermont and Maine, District residents never lose the right to vote, and Allen’s bill requires the Department of Corrections to automatically register voters, provides voting guides for everyone who’s incarcerated, and mandates (and funds!) a poll site in every D.C. jail.
Thus far, they have not asked for Spenser’s Super Poll Working Expertise.
So, let me make it known that I’m ready to serve — for the District, for civic life, and for my dear friend Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.
Spenser’s Super Trivia
Last Week: The residency requirement in Oklahoma and Missouri is 8 years. Kudos to Colton Hess and Stacy. The residency requirement in Minnesota and Virginia is a year. Kudos to Andy Szekeres, Stacy, and i'm a sailor! i sail! ahoy! [y’all really going off the deep end with these names, and I love it.]
This Week: Since 1976, the number of people disenfranchised because of a felony conviction has. . .
A. Risen by 1,000,000
B. Risen by 4,000,000
C. Dropped by 1,000,000
D. Dropped by 4,000,000
Bonus Points: What’s the exact number (to the nearest million)?
Share this post with everyone who lives in DC and works on voting issues and wants to get coffee with me next time I’m in the District 👇👇👇