Where We Are Now: 2018

Where We Are Now: 2018

Overview of who criminal disenfranchisement policies in Massachusetts affect and how you can help maximize the political power of people impacted by the criminal justice system.

State prisons
People incarcerated in Massachusetts state prisons for felony convictions cannot vote in any elections (federal, state or municipal) while incarcerated. This means about 8,234 people are currently denied the right to vote in Massachusetts due to imprisonment. Massachusetts disproportionately incarcerates people of color, so while the state is 18.2% people of color, 58% (or 4,982) of people disenfranchised due to imprisonment are people of color. People incarcerated in prison for other reasons – such as the 60% of people held in MCI-Framingham on pre-trial detention and county misdemeanor sentences, or people who have been civilly committed – are allowed to vote by absentee ballot. Maine and Vermont are the only U.S. states that allow all incarcerated citizens to vote.

County jails and houses of correction
Most of the approximately 9,800 people incarcerated in Massachusetts county jails and houses of correction on any given day can vote in all (federal, state and municipal) elections by absentee ballot, as long as they are citizens and are not incarcerated for felony convictions or voter fraud. However, many Massachusetts jails and houses of correction do not inform incarcerated people of election dates or help incarcerated people obtain absentee ballots, and some even give false information, telling incarcerated people they are ineligible to vote. Even when an incarcerated person has the funds and knowledge to request and submit an absentee ballot, town clerks often illegally reject these ballots, leaving incarcerated people with little recourse.

Formerly incarcerated people
Massachusetts is one of 14 states that prohibit people from voting while incarcerated in prison but return the right to vote immediately upon release, considered the “least restrictive” category of criminal disenfranchisement. However, empirical evidence suggests that because disenfranchisement laws vary from state to state, many people assume they remain disenfranchised upon release, although that is often not the case. However, the state does nothing to inform people of their right to vote following release. In fact, some formerly incarcerated people in Massachusetts have been falsely told by their parole officers that they cannot vote while on parole.

How You Can Help

Our goal for 2018 is to maximize the political power of currently incarcerated people in Massachusetts – people in jails, houses of correction, civilly committed people or people in prison not serving felony sentences. Many of these people are incarcerated because they could not make bail, and have not been convicted of a crime, but we are fighting not just for their voices to be heard, but also the voices of all people who are imprisoned. People who have been targeted by the criminal justice system, people who come from neighborhoods where someone on “nearly every street—and in some cases every other building” has been sent to jail, people who experience everyday state violence need to be at the center of any conversation around addressing our state’s problems.

We would love to connect with you – if you live in Massachusetts, please come to EI’s bi-weekly Saturday Struggle Sessions and sign up here to Donate Your Vote in 2018. In addition, please write to us with any ideas, particularly:

  • If you live in a Massachusetts town where a jail or house of correction is located, e-mail us to help with in-person jail voter registration.
  • If you know someone incarcerated in Massachusetts who’s interested in voting and learning about local elections, e-mail us to get them involved.
  • If you are running for office in Massachusetts, e-mail us to set up candidates’ forums inside jails, houses of correction, and prisons, and connect with incarcerated voters.
  • If you are formerly incarcerated and want to help us debunk the myth that you cannot vote in Massachusetts if you have a conviction, e-mail us to help register formerly incarcerated people to vote.