State officials have passed voting measures to allow those incarcerated and those released from prison and jail to have access to the ballot box, but a new report highlights more than five million people remain disenfranchised.
The Sentencing Project’s report, titled “Locked Out,” notes at least 6.2 percent of Black adults ages 18 and older nationwide still aren’t able to vote, compared to only 1.7 percent of all non-Blacks.
Alonzo Turner-Bey will no longer be a part of that percentage.
The 48-year-old Black man who grew up in Southeast was released Friday, Oct. 16 from Jessup Correctional Institution in Jessup, Md., where he spent the last 31 years, six months and 15 days. His prison sentence began April 1, 1989, at the age of 17 when convicted of first-degree murder.
“The first thing I did before I got out was register to vote,” Turner-Bey said an interview less than 2½ hours after his release from prison. “Some of the most important things are going on in the local and state level. I worked hard for my freedom. I want to give back to the community.”
There’s one person he doesn’t plan to vote for: President Donald Trump. Turner-Bey won’t refer to him by name.
“It’s time for the fool to go. The circus needs to be over,” he said minutes before he ate lunch at an IHOP restaurant. His meal, which he could relax and eat without being rushed: strawberry and banana French toast, a Spanish omelet and lemon water.
While Turner-Bey spends time relaxing with relatives in Charles County, he plans to research on the candidates running for office in that jurisdiction before he cast his vote for the Nov. 3 election.
“I want to see who is running for office and see what they have been doing,” he said. “I need to know if you earned your position…”
An estimated 17,874 people in Maryland prisons with a felony conviction won’t be able to vote, according to a Sentencing Project report released Oct. 14. About 12,527 are Black.
For those in Maryland jails, about 783 out of 904 in jail are Black, according to the report at https://bit.ly/350DkHi.
“Those who have a pre-trial and cash bail; they have voting rights.” -William Ford (@jabariwill) discusses #Election2020 voter rights for incarcerated people during the @BABJ_MD “Covering the 2020 Election” panel.— BABJ (@BABJ_md) October 29, 2020
📺WATCH MORE https://t.co/ofWB7pIpIO @NABJ @nabjregion1 pic.twitter.com/ZD4XDHU530
According to state law, people ineligible to vote are those convicted of a felony and serving a court-ordered sentence; anyone convicted of buying or selling votes; and “under guardianship for mental disability and the appropriate court has found by clear and convincing evidence that you cannot communicate, with or without accommodations, a desire to participate in the voting process.”
A person on probation can vote, according to the law.
Incarcerated individuals with misdemeanor offenses and those held on pretrial status are eligible to vote.
Maryland joins 16 other states where those incarcerated for felony convictions in prison remain ineligible to vote.
Florida voters approved a measure in 2018 to allow ex-felons, now formerly called returning citizens, to vote after completing a sentence, but the Republican-controlled state legislature put in a measure that forces court fees must be paid before regaining the right to vote. The state, according to the report, leads the nation with an estimated 1.1 million people disenfranchised.
The four other states behind Florida: Texas (500,474); Tennessee (456,480); Virginia (366,064); and Alabama (328,198).
Nicole Porter, director of advocacy with The Sentencing Project that conducts research and analyzes criminal justice topics, said voting rights need to be restored for everyone.
“[Those incarcerated] remain citizens and still have to pay taxes behind the walls because they buy products from the commissary, they pay for very expensive phone calls,” Porter said in an interview. “The criminal legal system acts as this mediator between the state and residents, particularly Black and brown residents, in stripping people of their full civil and political rights.”
That’s why advocacy groups in Maryland led a three-day tour this month to all the jails in the state. The message: ensure those eligible to vote while incarcerated can vote.
Earl Young Jr., who picked up Turner-Bey from Jessup and released from the same prison June 18, 2019, said groups such as Maryland Justice Project and Out For Justice helped spread the word about various programs that reached “behind the walls.”
“[There are] so many programs that I wanted to be a part of prior to coming home,” said Young, 52, who began a job as a mentor for the Baltimore City Public Schools on Sept. 3, 2019, less than three months after his release. “We were in JCI together and talked about how we can support each other and be a part of our community. Now we are released. It’s surreal.”