PITTSBURGH - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has sent letters to Pennsylvania probation and parole officials in response to reports that some probation and parole officers are erroneously telling offenders that they do not have the right to vote. In some cases, officers are even allegedly threatening them with a parole violation if they register.
Under Pennsylvania law, felons who have been released from prison, or who will be freed by the time of the election, are eligible to vote.
"People have died and fought revolutions for the right to vote," said Witold Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director. "Pennsylvania law is clear about ex-felons' right to vote, and parole and probation officials need to be equally clear in giving people accurate information about this important right."
The letters, which were sent to Catherine C. McVey, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, and the heads of all 67 county probation and parole boards, ask the heads of the county boards to provide copies of a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania guide entitled "Voting Rights of Convicted Felons, Convicted Misdemeanants and Pretrial Detainees" to all county probation and parole officers and to the parolees and probationers they supervise. The ACLU has requested that county boards respond to the letter by September 9, 2008.
The idea that ex-felons in Pennsylvania cannot vote is a common misconception, according to the ACLU. Many voter information Web sites, including governmental sites such as those of Lawrence and Butler counties, still state that former offenders must wait five years before they can register to vote. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the five-year waiting period as unconstitutional in 2000.
In Pennsylvania the only adult citizens who cannot vote are those who are currently incarcerated for a felony. Individuals in jail awaiting trial who have not been convicted, those incarcerated for misdemeanors, and those on probation or parole can vote. Voting rights are automatically restored upon release from prison.
A sample copy of the letter can be found here.
More information about voting rights in Pennsylvania can be found at: www.aclupa.org/votingrights