Election officials, volunteers inform ex-felons of right to vote

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Facing a looming voter registration deadline in Arkansas, election officials and volunteers are revving up efforts to register eligible convicted felons.

Ex-felons who have completed their parole are allowed to have their voting rights restored, according to the state constitution.

Only between five and fifteen percent of eligible convicted felons typically vote in a given election, according to the Pulaski County Election Commission.

"I think it's very important that people who have been convicted of a crime know that they can come back and really be a part of the community again," said Larry Crane, Pulaski County Clerk.

He notes there have been more than 30 ex-felons within the last month who have registered to vote through his office before the October 9 registration deadline.

Interested individuals are encouraged to register to vote through the County Clerk's office, where the completion of the parole process is verified.

Crane says there is widespread misinformation spread among convicts that has impacted voter turnout over the years.

"There are many who are not aware that they can come and go through the process and get the right restored," he said.

The task of informing this untapped voting block is often left to volunteer organizations like the Watershed in Little Rock.

"No one ever gave us anything like this," said George Bunn, as he browsed a pamphlet on voter rights for convicted felons while stopping by the Watershed.

Bunn, 46, says he has served his entire adult life in prison and has never been eligible to vote.

He has four months left on his parole and plans to vote in 2013 elections.

"My voting rights would make me feel like I'm doing something positive for the community and the people," he said, "instead of doing the outrageous crimes that I did."

Kathy Wells with the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods has also been working with other community activists in organizing voter registration drives with a focus on ex-felons.

"The right to vote means the right to vote again once you've paid your debt to society," she said.

Meanwhile, Crane's office is working with parole officers to better inform individuals, who have completed their parole, of their rights as they transition back to society.

"When you become a convicted felon it seems like people look at you different in society," said Scottie Manning, an ex-felon who plans to register to vote this week. "So it feels like something is being given back to me."