Opinion: I’m a Georgia voter with a felony conviction. Here’s how

November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters at the voting machines at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters at the voting machines at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

I voted just like any other registered Georgian.

It was once hard to believe that our state would ever turn the corner on its tough-on-crime attitude of the late 20th century led by a bipartisan initiative to stop the increasing crime rate of the ’80s and ’90s.

However, the efforts of local elected leaders and activists over the past 10 years, specifically the work of the Council of Criminal Justice Reform, have transformed Georgia into a national leader on crime prevention, rehabilitation, and tax-saving solutions.

In Georgia, anyone who has completed their felony sentence is available to register to vote. While completion of one’s sentence has been a hot debate in other states in the Southeast, the Georgia Secretary of State’s voter registration application clearly states that “your felony sentence is considered completed even if you have outstanding monetary obligations other than fines, such as unpaid restitution, fees, costs, or surcharges.”

Tyrel Dale
Tyrel Dale

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

In the middle of a nationalized runoff to determine the power dynamic of the U.S. Senate, we all expected it to resemble a battlefield. Nevertheless, those shots about just who should be able to vote hit harder when directed at a population that is already burdened by societal stigmas and systemic barriers. The rehabilitation of rights is a crucial part of the reentry process. I personally didn’t have to spend time in prison but the idea that I am at my core a criminal is one that I and many others still grapple with years after completion of our sentences.

The time, financial cost, and physical energy it takes to earn back your rights is not lost on any person who has ever been convicted of a felony. When we complete our sentence to the state and register for any election, it’s earned and shows a level of commitment that many people would have a tough time imagining.

When we go to our local polling place and cast our vote it is legitimate; this is why when misinformation is directed at Georgians with past felonies, especially in statements from local political figures, we must respond with facts.

Voting can make the most politically disengaged citizen feel like a politician. Many people with felony convictions just want to feel like citizens. The amount of hurdles those with felonies have to go through in order to participate in the most fundamental democratic act often leads to apathy and disillusionment. For all the outcry of Georgians with felonies voting, under 15% that are eligible to vote actually exercise their constitutional right.

So when the state makes an attempt to aid that reentry process for those of us with felony convictions trying to enter back into society, state leaders should be overly cautious and aware of the facts. They would be best served to see our success as a positive for all Georgians.

Tyrel Dale is a policy analyst in the office of the Georgia Lieutenant Governor.

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