Voters' education urged for ex-felons

Wednesday, September 17th 2008, 11:13 pm

By: News 9

By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- With uncertain times on Wall Street, an on-going war in Iraq and rising gas prices the stakes are growing for the upcoming presidential election.

Politicians have said throughout the campaign every vote counts, but one group said not all Oklahomans are getting a fair chance to do so.

In Oklahoma, ex-felons who've served their time have a right to vote, but according to the American Civil Liberties Union, not all of them know that, and according to a survey, neither do some county election boards.

"I think it's been about 20 or something years ago," former felon Bobby Battle said.

After serving his sentence in prison, Battle chose to spend his time educating others about voting rights.

"I've been to prison," Battle said. "I still should retain my right to vote once I've paid my debt to society."

Oklahoma law states all ex-offenders who've served the terms of their sentences have the right to re-register to vote, but Battle said it's not happening and he knows why.

"It's the lack of knowledge and lack of passing along the information, because people who've been to prison, they need to know what their rights are," Battle said. "They need to know this."

Battle pointed out the language on voter registration cards is too vague in explaining whose eligible to vote, and the ACLU said trusted officials need a reminder of who has what rights at the polls.

The ACLU of Oklahoma recently conducted a survey of all 77 Oklahoma county election boards and found 17 gave out wrong information as to when a former convict becomes re-eligible to register.

The results prompted the ACLU to issue written reminders of the law to all county elections boards in the state. The goal is to educate those in charge and those who've served their time.

"If this problem continues, considering we sent the letter to all 77 county election boards, they can contact the ACLU for help in this matter," Katy Jones of ACLE of Oklahoma said.

The law varies for criminals in other states.

In Vermont, Maine and Tennessee, prisoners currently serving time behind bars are allowed to vote.

In Virginia and Kentucky, once a citizen has been convicted of a felony, their voting rights are taken away for life.

Lawmakers are expected to consider a bill in the next session that will require the distribution of documents to ex-felons, explaining what their rights are when voting.

The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming November elections is October 10.


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