November Election is Coming Up Fast
Everything you need to get ready to vote on Nov. 8th!
Americans head to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th. To join the millions who will be weighing in on who should be president, senator, representative, state legislators, mayor, city council, as well as deciding a number of state and local propositions, you’ll need to register to vote by Monday, October 24, 2016. If you were registered in the 2014 election but have since moved or changed your name, you’ll need to re-register.
You can find specific and detailed information about whether you can vote with a past criminal conviction here. The short answer is: in almost every instance, you can!
Why Voting Matters
People–especially poor people, people of color, and women–have fought for the right to vote since the United States was founded. But for too many years of our country’s history, too many people have been restricted from voting.
Historical Restrictions to Voting
U.S. Constitution / Slavery
When the U.S. Constitution was ratified, non-white men were counted as 3/5 of all other persons, women weren’t counted at all, and neither were allowed to vote. This ended for men when the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed and abolished slavery, guaranteed equal protection under the law for all men, and said governments can’t deny the right to vote based on race, color, or having been a slave. The right for women didn’t come until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920.
Jim Crow Laws
Southern states were livid at the passage of those three “Reconstruction Amendments.” So they passed “Jim Crow laws”to make it harder for black citizens to register and vote. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and laws prohibiting people with a criminal conviction from voting were specifically designed to suppress black political power.
20th Century Voter Suppression
Many religious and paramilitary groups enforced the suppression until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and the U.S. put teeth into prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. The VRA resulted in the mass enfranchisement of racial minorities, most notably in the South, and is considered the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.
21st Century Disenfranchisement
Sadly, since 2008, states across the country have passed measures making it harder for Americans to vote—especially people of color, the elderly, students, the poor, and people with disabilities. These measures include voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls, and ongoing “felony disenfranchisement,” the stripping away of a person’s right to vote because of a criminal conviction.
Voting Rights for people with a criminal conviction
The ACLU has been fighting the rollback of voting rights in the courts, Congress, and state and local legislatures. We recently won a lawsuit here in California that restored the right to vote for more than 50,000 formerly incarcerated people. This means the only time you are not allowed to vote is if you are currently imprisoned or are currently on parole.
You can vote if:
- You are in county jail serving a misdemeanor sentence.
- You are in jail as a condition of probation.
- You are currently on probation, mandatory supervision, or post-release community supervision.
- You are done with parole.
Your right to vote is automatically restored when you complete your parole, but you must re-register to vote. You can do that right here!
How Your Vote Matters
DISTRICT ATTORNEY The District Attorney decides which criminal cases to prosecute and guides sentencing. The DA reviews complaints against police officers and decides whether or not to prosecute them.
CITY COUNCIL Your representative makes important decisions about the future of your neighborhood, including how to spend local tax dollars. They distribute funds for road repair, parks, and development, and oversee police.
SCHOOL BOARD School board members hire/fire the superintendent (who sets overall district policies, including disciplinary rules), set the budget, approve contracts for teachers, and decide where to open or close schools.
JUDGES Judges have enormous authority over our lives by interpreting the law, deciding what evidence is heard in a case, and deciding how long to sentence someone convicted of a crime.
SHERIFF The sheriff runs the county jails, and is also in charge of enforcing the law throughout the county, just like a chief of police. Deputies arrest and detain suspects and patrol the county.
GOVERNOR Your governor signs bills into law (and can veto bills as well). They make important appointments to state agencies, including the state’s school superintendent, and can grant commutations and pardons to prisoners.
U.S. CONGRESS/SENATE Members of Congress and the Senate write laws—any of which can have a profound impact on you. Your representatives can help if you’re experiencing a problem with a federal agency, like the IRS, Social Security, or veterans issues.
PRESIDENT The president is Commander in Chief of the armed forces and plays a huge role in shaping responses to international crises. They symbolize the goals and beliefs of the country and makes sure the government does its job.
LOCAL & STATE INITIATIVES AND BONDS Initiatives can have a dramatic impact on our lives. Citizens or the state legislature can put a measure on the ballot for the people to vote on. If they’re passed, they become law. They can change the tax system and the criminal justice system, including upholding or ending the death penalty or sentencing guidelines. Bonds ask voters to decide how public money will be spent and can have a positive or negative effect on your community.