Ex-cons exercise voting rights in Pennsylvania

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Election Day is November 8th, but a large group of Pennsylvanians might not realize they have the right to cast their votes.

Many states have laws preventing people who have been in prison, from heading to the polls.

For most people who've served time for a felony in Pennsylvania, if they're outside prison walls, they are free to exercise their right to vote.

Contrary to popular belief, there are only two types of convicted criminals who can't vote on Election Day in Pennsylvania.

ACLU of Pennsylvania legislative director Andy Hoover said "someone who is currently incarcerated for a felony conviction, or someone who has violated the election code within the last four years.

There are 20,000 felons released from Pennsylvania prisons each year, many who may not realize that they actually have a reason to vote.

"Elected officials make decisions, about criminal justice policy that impacts people's lives, so it's very important that people with criminal records, have the right to vote," Hoover said.

People who've served time behind bars should know that their rights as an American citizen don't end with a prison sentence.

Pennsylvania has very strong language in its state constitution that prohibits barriers to the vote, and so as a result, the courts have read that to mean, people who are out of prison do have the right the vote," Hoover said.

Ex-cons aren't the only ones who might be confused about their rights.

"Sometimes public officials don't know. We've heard anecdotes of people from county offices, and even state agencies who should know better, telling people with a record that they can't vote," Hoover said.

In a statement, the Department of Corrections press secretary Amy Worden said "The Department of Corrections works diligently to ensure that the 20,000 individuals coming out of our system and returning to the community every year are equipped with all the necessary tools they need to be successful. Access to voting is certainly one of them."

"While inmates are prohibited from voting, those on parole may vote. The DOC seeks to make sure that all re-entrants have proper identification needed in order to register. In addition, voter registration materials are provided at all community corrections centers (halfway houses)," Worden added.

Former felons who were registered to vote before Election Day, should check their registration status online.

Ex-cons who experience any issues at the polls may contact the ACLU or call 866-our-vote.