Sunday, August 17, 2008

Do the crime, serve the time and vote the line

Wow, I didn't even think they were allowed to. Now I know.

Did you?

Inmates counseled on voting rights
Scott Huddleston - Express-News

Many former felons don't know they can vote in Texas.
That's why Steve Huerta visits jails, telling visitors the laws have changed.
“We don't want more people to necessarily vote Democrat or Republican. We want them to vote the way their heart tells them to vote,” Huerta said while handing out literature Saturday in the lobby of the Bexar County Detention Center.

Huerta, a former felon, is an advocate for those who have served time and are trying to reintegrate into society. While employment, food and housing are major hurdles, regaining the right to vote can be a big first step, he said.
“It allows them to actively participate in their own future,” said Huerta, executive director of the Texas chapter of All of Us or None, an advocacy group for people who are or have been incarcerated.

Saturday's visit was one of several Huerta's group plans to make in the area. He's trying to register family members and former felons prior to the Oct. 6 deadline for the presidential election. According to a recent report from New York University's School of Law, 5.3 million Americans can't vote because of felony convictions, even though 4 million are out of prison and paying taxes.

Texas stands in the middle range on voting rights for ex-felons. While Maine and Vermont allow incarcerated felons to vote by mail, several states still permanently ban ex-felons from the election process.

For many years, felons in Texas were permanently stripped of the right to vote. In 1983, the ban was replaced with a five-year wait after felons served their sentences. The waiting period, later reduced to two years, was eliminated through a law signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush in 1997.

“I didn't know about that,” Yvette Sepeda said Saturday while waiting at the jail to see her husband, now serving time on a second felony conviction.
Sepeda thought her husband could never vote again. She was impressed that Huerta was meeting face-to-face with visitors in the jail.
“He's actually involved, and that shows a lot,” Sepeda said. “You hear of programs that say they help convicted felons. But it's really hard for them when they get out.”
After serving four months for drug possession, Huerta was released by a judge in December 2001. But his felony record disqualified him for low-cost housing and food stamps and forced him to work day labor to get by.

Huerta was lamenting one day about the troubles ex-felons face when his son Nicholas told him to stop talking and “do something about it.” Now, by getting former felons to the polls, he hopes to help keep them from returning to crime.
It's good for them and for the community, Huerta said.