Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Ex-felons' voting rights misstated

Reform advocates fault Hamilton Co.

By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Hamilton County elections officials are providing "misleading and erroneous" voting information to ex-felons, a Cincinnati-area prisoner advocacy group said Tuesday.

The Prison Reform Advocacy Center surveyed 140 former state prison inmates and talked to all 88 county boards of elections. The group found that one in five ex-felons don't realize they can re-register to vote, and some election boards were unaware of the law.

"This is absolutely unacceptable that boards of elections that are supposed to know Ohio law ... are giving misleading, inconsistent and flat-out wrong information to ex-offenders," said David Singleton, executive director of the center.

Ohio is one of 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allows ex-felons to regain voting rights once released from prison.

About 22,000 inmates are released from Ohio prisons each year.

Singleton said the Advocacy Center is "particularly disturbed" by what was found in Hamilton County.

Ex-felons who try to register to vote by mail in Hamilton County are required to attach a document from the state prison system or adult parole authority proving they are no longer in prison.

Singleton said the requirement is unnecessary under Ohio law.

John Williams, executive director of the Hamilton County board, said his staff is not informed when felons are let out of prison, so they need some proof when the person doesn't register in person.

"We've had people register by mail and attempt to do so from prison," he said. "We ask that they send us information because we often don't know where they are coming from."

A spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the state's top election official, said Hamilton County's requirements for ex-felons are acceptable.

Singleton also said the Hamilton County office was one of 20 in the state that incorrectly said ex-felons were not eligible to vote. Reform Advocacy Center officials called each office three times, posing as ex-felons.

"I'd be stunned by that," Williams said of that allegation in the report. "I think we have a very good staff here."


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