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Opinion: It’s time to unlock the vote

  

Throughout my political career, I have believed in second chances. I believe that people can change. I believe that your past shouldn’t get to define you.

Second chances are what motivated me to pursue criminal justice reform during my time in the Missouri General Assembly. It’s what’s led me to sponsor legislation banning the box on job applications and expanding expungement opportunities for those convicted of non-violent crimes. Second chances are also what has led me to my next challenge. 

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed

According to information from the Missouri Department of Corrections, there are currently more than 60,000 Missourians who have been found guilty of a felony and who are now on probation and parole. That’s more than 60,000 Missourians who have paid their debt to society and who are trying to move on with their lives and better themselves. 

Many of these individuals out on probation or parole try to make a living. They work hard at their jobs. They support their families. They pay their taxes. Overall, they try to do right by their communities. If you talk to these individuals about their lives and what they’re doing, you’ll see their hopes and dreams aren’t that different from anyone else’s. They want good schools and better communities. But when the conversation naturally turns to politics in an election year, such as this one, often these individuals shy away. “I can’t vote,” they say. “I’m on probation.” Or “I’m on parole.”

 I can’t vote.”

Now, those are words no citizen should have to say in a democracy such as ours. And yet, Missouri denies these citizens on probation and parole the right to vote every election cycle. Because of the mistakes they have made in the past, these individuals are left out of the political process. Left out of our democracy. Sure, they’re allowed a second chance to get a job and to make a living, but they’re denied a second chance at the ballot box. I believe this is taxation without representation. That’s unjust. And it must end.

That’s why I have filed Senate Bill 542, the Missouri Restoration of Voting Rights Act. The legislation repeals the prohibition on voting for individuals convicted of a felony and who are now on probation or parole. This legislation will give more than 60,000 Missourians their voices back. It will allow them to be heard once more on all levels of government — from their child’s school board all the way up to the president of the United States. Senate Bill 542 will allow them a second chance to truly be productive, contributing and voting members of our communities. Because after all, I believe you should never lose your voice just because you committed a crime all those years ago. 

Eighteen other states have already stepped up the plate in protecting the voting rights for these individuals. It’s time for Missouri to join them.

If we are truly committed to rehabilitation, I believe that should include restoring an individual’s voting rights. Because people deserve a second chance. And a real second chance means allowing them to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

This legislative session, I’m going to work to pass the Missouri Restoration of Voting Rights Act. I believe we’re going to pass SB 542, and we’re going to unlock the vote.