Survey Finds Many Election Officials Clueless on Voting Rights of People Convicted of Crime
Many people are calling the upcoming 2008 presidential election the most important election in our lifetimes.
So, it goes with out saying that every vote will be counted-right?
Unfortunately, Americans may have reason to question that notion.
The 2000 presidential election revealed the basic infrastructure problems of our voting system with the notorious debates about whether each American’s vote was being counted.
You would hope that we’ve learned from our mistakes.
But a new survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union and the S.C. Progressive Network suggests that we are still struggling to ensure that everyone eligible to vote is getting their voice heard.
The survey questioned elections officials in all of South Carolina’s 46 counties and found that they didn’t know the facts about some voting rules for people who have been convicted of a crime.
For example, when voting officials were asked whether people with misdemeanor convictions or out-of-state felony convictions were allowed to vote, an average of 48 percent officials got it wrong – that’s nearly half of the people trusted to implement election laws!
When they were asked basic eligibility questions, like whether convicted felons could vote, about 5 percent of voting officials got the answers incorrect.
“The history in South Carolina is preventing people from voting, and we’re still living that history,” Brett Bursey, director of the S.C. Progressive Network, told The State newspaper. “The people on the streets don’t understand [the rules], and if they go to their election commission, they’re going to get this kind of wrong information.”
The State Election Commission’s spokesperson, Chris Whitmire, is questioning the survey’s method of questioning and told the newspaper that some of the questions were misleading. He further said that every voting official must complete a state certification program and take an educational class every year.
South Carolina law prohibits people convicted of felonies from voting until they serve their sentences (including parole and probation). People convicted of violating election laws are also barred from voting until they complete their sentences. If a person is convicted of any other misdemeanor, they lose their right to vote while imprisoned.
The groups that conducted the survey hope that the results will shed light on the problem and result in more training for election officials. They also want states to alert individuals when they regain their right to vote.
What This Survey Teaches Us About Criminal Rights
This survey highlights the importance of each American fully understanding their voting rights. It appears that we can’t always count on officials being up-to-date on the facts.
Here are some resources that may help familiarize you with what your voting and general rights are:
- Total Criminal Defense’s Criminal Rights Resource Center
- The U.S. Government’s National Archives’ Charters of Freedom Site, featuring the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights
- U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section
- Individual State Election Board Lists and state-by-state voting information
If you are facing any criminal charges or have questions regarding your voting rights, don’t hesitate to speak to a criminal defense attorney.