Felon voting rights and Indiana

As we approach Indiana’s primary election day, I want to point out that Indiana is one of the few states that gets it right when it comes to restoring the voting rights of people convicted of felonies.

A few weeks back, Gilbert Holmes of the ACLU of Indiana wrote a column about the importance of voting rights for ex-felons:

Why should you care? People who vote are more likely to volunteer, give to charities and attend school board meetings. Former felons who vote are less likely to be rearrested, because voting helps people connect and become part of something positive.

The disproportionate number of African-Americans affected by voter disenfranchisement, more than 1.5 million across the United States, is an even more stunning number when you consider that one in every 15 black men age 18 and older is incarcerated, and the zero-tolerance policies in our schools have created a pipeline straight to prison for many black teenage dropouts in our communities. When such a large portion of the community is locked in the criminal justice system, you can be sure their interests are not represented either at the polls or in the halls of power.

This topic has been on my mind lately, largely because of a woman named Kemba Smith Pradia. You can read more about her compelling life story, but the short version is this: she was sentenced to 24 years under mandatory minimum sentencing laws for crack cocaine. This, despite the fact that “Prosecutors in the case acknowledged that I never sold, handled or used any drugs.” President Clinton commuted her sentence in 2000, and since that time she has gotten married, graduated college, and attended law school. She could vote here in Indiana. But the problem is, her family just moved to Virginia for work.

Just by crossing the state border, she loses her right to vote.

Smith Pradia recently joined an NAACP delegation to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, asking them to investigate and support for restoring the right to vote to felons after they complete their sentences.

Watch Smith Pradia talk about her trip, her life story, and her important work bringing attention to this cause with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry:

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