Oregon leads the nation in accessible voting. With robust vote by mail, automatic voter registration systems, and paid postage for mail-in ballots, Oregonians are easily able to cast their ballots year after year, resulting in some of the highest voter turnout in the country.
But right now, there are tens of thousands of people who are barred from the state’s otherwise accessible voting system: those currently incarcerated with felony convictions.
Stripping citizens of their civil rights is not about punishment. It’s a relic of Jim Crow era policies intended to keep Black Americans from voting. Oregon has the chance to correct it. New legislation, SB 571 would ensure that everyone is allowed to have a say in our democracy.
Oregon has a long history of policies and laws unfairly targeting Black citizens. From its founding as a sundown territory in 1844, there were laws on the books designed to keep Black citizens from moving to the state until 1926. Denying the incarcerated the right to vote is a Jim Crow era policy meant to further push communities of color to the margins of society.
To this day, communities of color are still overpoliced and are jailed at astonishing rates. The statistics are impossible to deny. Of the nearly 13,000 people currently incarcerated in Oregon prisons, Latinx folks make up 16% of the state’s prison population, but only 12% of the total population. Indigenous Oregonians are 1.8% of the state’s population, but 3% of its prison population. Black people see the highest disparities, making up only 2% of Oregon’s total population, but fully 9% of its prison population.
Felony disenfranchisement laws were created specifically to keep Black Americans from voting. But as our criminal justice system’s over-reliance on incarceration has affected more and more Oregonians, it’s white Oregonians, especially the poor, who now make up the majority of those affected by Oregon’s current disenfranchisement laws.
These laws create an entire class of people who are subject to the laws of this country but have no say in how they’re governed. Incarcerated folks are directly impacted by the outcome of elections, from their meals while imprisoned to their medical care to the school districts that their children attend.
We can’t have an elected government that represents all of us when we continue to exclude large groups of American citizens from our elections and deny them the ability to fully participate in our democracy. They deserve to have a voice — starting with the passing of SB 571.
If Oregon is committed to building a just, inclusive society, then we have to reckon with past wrongs. That starts with restoring the voting rights of incarcerated citizens.
SB 571 would allow those with felony convictions to register to vote, update their voter registrations, and vote in elections based on where they resided prior to incarceration. And by passing SB 571, Oregon could be the first state in American history to restore the voting rights of incarcerated people.
The Path to Winning
This bill hasn’t been brought to a vote yet, and the legislature needs to know it’s time for a change. If you’re ready for Oregon to dismantle an outdated, racist policy and restore the voting rights of incarcerated people, then send an email and tell your state senator to vote YES on SB 571.