In places like Baltimore, where an estimated 20,000 residents on probation or parole couldn’t vote because of their past convictions, it can have a big impact.
“They could actually, as a voting bloc, be one of the single largest voting blocs in the city forcing change around issues important to them,” DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who ran unsuccessfully for mayor
, told Refinery29 ahead of the primary.
But getting former felons registered and to the polls isn’t easy, even once laws have been updated. Efforts like the Hip Hop Caucus’ Respect My Vote! campaign
are working across the country to spread awareness of the various laws. The group, which enlists rappers like 2 Chainz and Charlamagne as spokespeople, registered more than 30,000 people in 2008. Half the battle, they said, is persuading people to put their trust in politics again.
“We have to restore faith in the system,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., who leads the campaign
. “I think there’s a lot of people who think the system is completely broken.”
In Baltimore, the local get-out-the-felon-vote effort was led in part by Maryland Communities United.
For weeks, the nonprofit set up voter registration tables at busy intersections, including the Penn North Light Rail stop, adding more than 1,000 voters to the polls. They created a platform of political demands from the ex-offender community, and staged a forum where newly registered voters could ask questions of candidates for mayor. Like Houghton, many of the ex-offenders in attendance expressed frustration about the difficulties they faced in finding housing and jobs post-release.
“What are we going to do about housing for ex-offenders that come out of prison and have nowhere to go?" one man asked.