The right to vote is a fundamental aspect of democracy and a core constitutional right that should never be taken away. However, Connecticut law deprives people of the right to vote when they are in the custody of the Department of Corrections and convicted of a felony. HB 5702 would restore the right to vote to people who are incarcerated on a felony conviction.
On March 6, 2023 ACLU of Connecticut's Campiagn Manager, Gus Marks-Hamilton testified in support of HB 5702 during it's public hearing with the Government Administration and Elections Committee. The following is his testimony.
Good day Senator Flexer, Representative Blumenthal, ranking members Senator Sampson and Representative Mastrofrancesco and distinguished members of the Government Administration and Elections Committee. My name is Gus Marks-Hamilton and I work as the campaign manager at the ACLU of Connecticut’s Smart Justice campaign. I am here today to testify in support of House Bill 5702: An Act Allowing Incarcerated Citizens to Vote.
The right to vote is a fundamental aspect of democracy and a core constitutional right that should never be taken away. However, Connecticut law deprives people of the right to vote when they are in the custody of the Department of Corrections and convicted of a felony. HB 5702 would restore the right to vote to people who are incarcerated on a felony conviction. As an organization that believes that enfranchisement is an integral way for all Americans to participate in the democracy that governs them, the ACLU of Connecticut supports this bill
We have also submitted written testimony, but I wanted to take a moment to describe my own experience and why I believe this committee and the General Assembly should restore the right vote for people who are incarcerated.
I spent nearly eight years in Connecticut’s prisons and jails. I had had an up close and very personal look at how one of the state’s largest agencies was operated. While I was incarcerated legislation was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law that impacted the length of my sentence and when I was eligible for release. That happened twice. And while I was incarcerated, I paid taxes yet never had representation here at the legislature. I thought it was ironic that I developed a better understanding of our state government, how it worked, and the impact of its decisions while I was in its custody yet was never more disenfranchised and alienated from my rights as a citizen.
When I was released and became eligible to register to vote, I immediately did at my town clerk’s office, and when I voted a couple of months later, it was an extremely proud moment for me. Yet I know many people who are also formerly incarcerated, who completed their sentences a long time ago, and still have not registered to vote. They have told me that they feel an almost permanent alienation from their fundamental right of citizenship.
By restoring a person’s right to vote when they are incarcerated Connecticut would no longer deprive people of their fundamental civic right and allow them to have a voice in the decisions and policies made by government that impacts their lives. Restoring the right to vote not only expands and strengthens our democracy, but it also helps to maintain a person’s connection to their community and helps them reintegrate into their community when they are released.
It is also important to note that voter disenfranchisement of people who are incarcerated disproportionately impacts black and brown people, who make up over 70% of the state’s incarcerated population. Also, over half of the people who are incarcerated in Connecticut are parents. Restoring their right to vote would allow them to have input on decisions that shape the lives of their children and their communities.
In 2019 I was part of group of people that conducted a voter registration and absentee ballot drive at York Correctional Institution in Niantic for people who were incarcerated pretrial and on misdemeanor convictions. Right now nearly forty percent of the people in the custody of the Department of Corrections, nearly 4,000 people, are incarcerated before being convicted. They are all, along with a smaller group of people convicted of misdemeanor charges, eligible to vote but it is extremely difficult to do so while locked up. Two of our neighboring states, Maine and Vermont have consistently managed to facilitate voting from within their prisons. Last year Washington D.C. passed a law restoring the right to vote for people incarcerated for a felony conviction.
HB 5702 is an important step to help more people more fully participate in our democracy, so I strongly urge the committee to support this bill and thank you for listening to my testimony.