As United States citizens we have the ability to cast a vote in elections to voice our opinion with regard to who we believe will best represent our community. But if you’re a convicted felon, that right can be taken away.  In a democracy, voting is a right, not a privilege. Yet in our country, well over five million citizens are unable to participate in this most basic, fundamental right of citizenship. For example, Kelli Jo Griffin, a mother from Iowa, lost her voting rights when she was convicted of a nonviolent drug offense. Griffin completed the terms of her probation, and turned her life around.  But when she brought her kids to her polling place to show them how we vote, she was arrested and charged with voter fraud. At trial, the jury acquitted Griffin, but she is still unable to vote. Iowa’s extreme disfranchisement policy permanently bars ex- felons from voting, which the ACLU is challenging in court.  

This story signifies that even nonviolent felons are being blocked from casting their vote, a right we hold so dearly. In Wyoming, we have proposed legislation that will be debated in the upcoming session that would automatically restore the right to vote for one-time, non-violent felons, following completion of their sentence. The benefits of voting are significant. Research demonstrates that individuals who vote are more likely to be involved in their communities, and for those with felony convictions, participating in the voting process is consistent with a reduced likelihood of re-arrest.  

In Wyoming, individuals convicted of a single non-violent felony can have their voting rights restored five years after completion of sentence. Individuals with more than one conviction- even if non-violent- have their voting rights permanently removed unless they are restored by the governor, which rarely happens. As citizens of Wyoming, we understand that voting is a fundamental right and part of our civic duty, and we need to restore a political voice for those who have completed their sentences for mistakes they made. To do so will strengthen our community and honor our democracy. 

Click here to read more about Wyoming's current laws on restoration of voting rights, or here to learn more about the ACLU’s work to protect voting rights. 

Hannah Nerone
ACLU of Wyoming Intern