They inform her that, actually, in Indiana, she is allowed to vote. Election laws vary from state to state. Once an Indiana resident has served his sentence, his voting rights are fully restored. This is the case in most U.S. states, although some also require the completion of parole and/or probation. Two states, Maine and Vermont, are more lenient. The laws in these states allow convicted individuals to vote while in jail, by absentee ballot. On the other end of the spectrum, nine states bar individuals convicted of certain crimes from voting for life.
The confusion may stem from the fact that, unlike most other leading democracies in the world, our national constitution does not include the right to vote. For this reason, Congress has had to pass several landmark pieces of legislation – the 15th Amendment, the 19th Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – to clarify who has the right to vote, and to protect those voters from discrimination and disenfranchisement.
But it is a tragic reality that millions of American citizens are disenfranchised every election, simply for having a criminal past. Officials in several states have decided that even after a person has paid his debt to society through a prison sentence, they are ineligible to participate in the democratic process. Worse still, these policies have leached into states without such restrictions. Many ex-felons, such as the Indiana woman in the film, don’t realize they are permitted to vote in their state. There are severe penalties for illegal voting, so it is understandable that ex-felons are reluctant to vote if they’re unsure of their rights.
In Illinois, the state constitution allows all non-incarcerated adult citizens to vote. If you live in Illinois and have a criminal record, you have the right to vote. You do not need to wait until the completion of supervision, parole or probation. Just make sure you’ve registered at least 30 days before an election – visit the State Board of Elections website for instructions.
At the Bryant Chavez Law Office, we believe your criminal past should not prevent you from leading a positive, fulfilled life. We work every day to help reformed individuals clear their criminal records, giving them expanded opportunities to contribute to society. This election day, we encourage you to exercise your right to vote. Millions of people aren’t so lucky.