Charlotte Grant: Celebrating sobriety by finding her voice at the ballot box

Charlotte Grant: Celebrating sobriety by finding her voice at the ballot box

Charlotte A. Grant, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., has made a habit of voting since ending her drug use in 1998. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21.

Charlotte A. Grant, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., was convicted of 112 misdemeanors over four years, and though she never lost her voting rights, it was not until she was clean that she realized the impact of her vote. Grant has been a regular voter since her sobriety in 1998.

“For years, I was never heard, never had a right or a choice in anything because the drugs controlled me. When I got clean, that’s what most citizens do: vote and have a voice. That inspired me. I didn’t feel like I was a criminal anymore. I felt like I was just everybody else.”

By Carl Straumsheim and Michael Ciaglo, News21

California sentencing laws could disenfranchise additional prisoners

California sentencing laws are changing who is eligible to vote, and prisoner rights advocacy groups say 85,000 California voters have been disenfranchised as a result.

The issue has become murky since April, when Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that realigned the criminal justice system to reduce prison overcrowding and cut budgets. Over the last nine months, the state’s 58 counties have assumed responsibility for low-level felony offenders who would have otherwise been in prison.

Since 1974, Californians with serious and lesser felony convictions have had the right to vote unless they’re in state prison or on parole. In December, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat, told county election clerks there’s no difference between county and state incarceration when it comes to felons’ right to vote.

The League of Women Voters and prisoner rights organizations, such as All of Us or None, see a difference. They sued in the state’s Supreme Court May 28, challenging interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court hasn’t decided to hear the case yet, although the groups ask the state to clarify who is eligible to vote while serving in county jail.

A plaintiff in the case, 31-year-old Alisha Coleman, is serving a three-year sentence in San Francisco County jail for drug trafficking convictions, followed by one year of mandatory supervision. She cannot vote, but hopes the court will allow her to vote by mail from her cell.

Bowen’s office declined to comment on the case.

By Alissa Skelton, News21

Felon recalls 2008 return to the election booth

When Katrina M. Frierson was told she could no longer vote she said her “self-esteem was shot back to the ground.”

Frierson was convicted of 17 felonies relating to drug and weapons charges in the 1980s and 90s. She spent eight years in jail and another seven on probation.

She has since turned her life around and now runs a halfway home for women fighting substance abuse.

In Tennessee, a single felony conviction means losing one’s right to vote. To regain it, felons have to complete the full term of their sentence and fill out a Certificate of Restoration of Voting Rights.

Frierson said she rushed to complete this process before the 2008 presidential election.

“Before my convictions, voting was a really essential part of my life,” she said. “I actually worked on the voting election committee, meaning that I was the one that was sitting out at the polls at 5:30 in the morning.”

Frierson said casting her ballot in 2008 was a highlight for the year.

“When I received my voting rights, it made me a better human being, a better member of society. It felt like a marriage. It felt like a birthday, a graduation,” she said. “But most of all, it was a good challenge for me to be a better member of society.”

By Carl Straumsheim, News21

Coffee Break Ballot, July 3: Current Trends in Voting Rights

We should probably stop calling specific days “big news days” for voting rights legislation. With legal challenges to Texas and South Carolina voter ID laws and Alabama’s Voting Rights Act challenge moving forward, it’s possible that many days in the weeks and months to come could be big days for voting rights.


  • Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a trio of controversial bills – voter registration, photo ID and citizenship verification.
  • South Carolina set a deadline for implementing a photo voter ID law if it is approved by a federal appeals court.
  • An aide to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad confirmed that the governor will not change regulations for restoring felons’ voting rights.
  • And Florida elections officials acknowledged that they likely will not restart the state’s voter roll cleanup despite a court ruling on its legality.

It’s safe to say a few things happened today.

What We’ve Been Reading

Snyder vetoes voting reform bills,” (Rick Pluta, 07/03, Michigan Radio)

Florida Voter Purge Is Unlikely to Resume,” (Ari Berman, 07/03, The Nation)

Commentary: One citizen, one vote: Clearing the air on voter ID reforms,” (Ruth Johnson and Pete Lund, 07/03, Detroit News)

The Dog that Voted and Other Election Fraud Yarns,” (Kevin Drum, 07/03, Mother Jones)

Aide: Iowa Governor Will Keep Felon Voting Policy,” (Associated Press, 07/03)

Voter ID in Michigan,” (Pew Center on the States, 07/03, Pew Charitable Trusts)

New schedule tightens window to implement voter ID,” (Meg Kinnard, 07/03, Associated Press)

Twitter Trends

The most notable Twitter trend today is the buzz among progressive opponents of voter ID laws. If the struggle for election reform is a battle, today was a big win for progressives, as multiple states and multiple cases were resolved in their favor.

Mother Jones article detailing voter fraud allegations — Mickey Mouse voting, a dog registering to vote — and calling Republican election reform policy intentional voter suppression has bounced back and forth on Twitter, with social media search engine showing growth in usage of the term “voter suppression.”

The Mother Jones story likely will get conservative pushback by the end of today, with talking points and retweetable factoids flying in the face of gloating partisans on one side of the issue or the other.

We’ll be the first to tell when the mood shifts. Be sure to follow us @WhoCanVote.

Lillian Johnson: Putting Florida felons back to work

Lillian Johnson: Putting Florida felons back to work

Lillian Johnson, director of the Havana Learning Center, gives felons and community members who are down on their luck, a place to come together to look for work and get back on their feet. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21

Lillian Johnson is the founder and director of Havana (Fla.) Community Technology and Learning Center Inc. She works with felons by helping them find jobs.

“I think that after they’ve done their prison time, when they walk out of that door, they should be free citizens, right then. They should be able to have everything that they had before they went in,”Johnson said. “They’ve done the time for the crime that they’ve done. They should be free.

“They should be able to come right back out and pick up where they left off at — to be able to vote, especially. Because at this time, it’s critical. It’s critical. Do you realize how many prisoners come out and they can’t vote?”

By Andrea Rumbaugh, News21

Florida felons make case for access to the polls at clemency hearing

Florida felons make case for access to the polls at clemency hearing

Florida governor Rick Scott, right, listens to testimony from felons who are seeking to have their civil rights restored at a clemency hearing Thursday in the state Capitol. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21

Florida felons seeking the right to vote took the opportunity Thursday to make their case at the state Board of Executive Clemency.

People had the chance to present to the board — comprising Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam — reasons they deserve to have their rights restored. They spoke of their original conviction, recent charges against them, drinking habits and past drug use. Family and friends could also speak on their behalf, and advocates sometimes read statements submitted by victims.

Christine Fickey, whose conviction was not announced at the hearing, petitioned for clemency to regain her voting rights.

“I’m in college at the Hodges University,” Fickey said. “I just took American government, so I was very interested in politics, having a professor so passionate about it.”

For a felon’s request to be granted, Scott and two other board members must approve. If Scott denies the request, then it is non-negotiable.

By Andrea Rumbaugh and Michael Ciaglo, News21

Tennessee organization encourages felons to exercise voting rights

Tennessee organization encourages felons to exercise voting rights

H.U.G.G.S. Inc. was founded by felon Sherri Jackson, center, in Nashville, Tenn., to help felons integrate into society by finding jobs and helping to restore their voting rights. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21

Sherri Jackson is celebrating her fifth year as a re-enfranchised voter. As executive director of the Nashville, Tenn., nonprofit H.U.G.G.S. Inc., she helps felons, like herself, integrate into society.

Jackson and about 35 other volunteers guide felons through a program that teaches time management and life skills while preparing them for education and employment.

“This is the one-stop shop,” Jackson said.

Since 2006, H.U.G.G.S., which stands for Humility, Understanding, God, Grace and Spiritual Strength, has helped about 100 felons restore their voting rights. Jackson said she had to lose that right before realizing its importance.

“Before I was convicted … I didn’t vote … I didn’t care to vote,” Jackson said. “I felt that I did not have a voice.”

Jackson gained a new perspective.

“Once your voting rights are taken, you really don’t have a voice or a citizenship,” she said. “I just got really excited about being a part of something that is major.”

By Carl Straumsheim, News21

Thursday Throwback: Obama supports felon voting rights

Felon disenfranchisement briefly landed in the spotlight two years ago when an adviser for President Barack Obama spoke on his behalf after the 2010 State of the Union.

Heather Higgenbottom, then deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, urged full support of voting rights for former felons and said the president’s position is that when a person completes a sentence, voting rights should be restored.

View the video here, about 16 minutes into the discussion.

Thursday Throwback: Obama supports felon voting rights

By Maryann Batlle, News21