Unlock the Vote!

July 29, 2019

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

Three Democratic legislators introduced two crucial bills last weeks to rectify problems with our voting system related to incarceration.

The first bill, “Unlock the Vote,” would grant formerly incarcerated people the right to vote as soon as they are free. Currently, they are not allowed to vote unless they are “off paper”— which means, they’ve completed their supervision, parole, or probation. At the moment, there are about 66,000 formerly incarcerated individuals in Wisconsin who can’t vote because they are still “on paper.” (Legislative Reference Bureau bill draft 1522.)

“Denying them the right to vote upon release is an injustice that must stop,” said Sen. Lena Taylor at a press conference in the State Capitol on July 24.

It’s wrong, added Rep. Jodi Emerson, that there are “66,000 people who have no voice” in Wisconsin.

The second bill, “Prison Gerrymandering Elimination Act,” is also important. “Prison gerrymandering” is when inmates are counted, for purposes of the Census, as living in the community where the jail or prison is located – and not as a member of the community where they’re from. So, for instance, if you live in Milwaukee but are incarcerated in Waupun, you’re counted as living in Waupun, and as a result, Waupun’s population goes up, and the representation and resources that flow to Waupun go up, and those for Milwaukee go down. That’s how it works currently in Wisconsin. This bill would change that and count inmates as being from their actual home communities and not from the prison location. (Legislative Reference Bureau bill draft 3567.)

“Prison gerrymandering distorts democracy by artificially inflating the areas that have prisons,” said Representative David Crowley at the press conference.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign strongly supports these bills.

We urge our members to contact their legislators to co-sponsor and champion the bills. The number for contacting your legislator is 1-800-362-9472 (266-9960 in Madison).

And hats off to ROC Wisconsin and WISDOM and EXPO, which are pushing these bills and leading the campaign against mass incarceration in our state. For more information, go here: https://www.rocwisconsin.org/unlock-the-vote-campaign and https://exporocswi.org.