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Here's the truth: you can vote in Michigan after serving time in prison

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Emma Winowiecki
/
Michigan Radio
Formerly incarcerated citizens in Michigan retain the right to vote after serving their sentence, but confusion abounds, say prison reform advocates.

Last Friday, reporters from Michigan Radio's Stateside program were out asking people if they planned to vote in tomorrow's primary election.

One man's comment was particularly striking:

"My name is Eric and I'm from the great city of Ypsilanti, Michigan. I would love to vote in the primary election on August 7th. So unfortunately, I'm unable to vote because I am currently on parole through the Michigan Department of Corrections. And I honestly feel is unfair that we don't have the right to vote."

Allan Wachendorfer says there are a lot of people who are confused about the issue, like Eric. Wachendorfer is with the Michigan Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. He's also a formerly incarcerated person, and founding member of the prison reform advocacy group Nation Outside.

Wachendorfer says some states do in fact permanently revoke voting rights of people who have served time, especially for violent felonies. In other states, you can only regain your right to vote after serving time for a felony if the governor or a judge restores it.

"But that's not true in Michigan," says Wachendorfer. "We have the ability to vote. Once you are done serving your time from incarceration, you can re-register and your rights are restored automatically. In fact, people who are in jail who have not been sentenced yet, they also can vote absentee."

Wachendorfer, who appeared on Stateside, says society is better off when it allows formerly incarcerated people to fully rejoin civil life.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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