Friday, December 12, 2014

Why felon enfranchisement matters

As United States citizens we have the ability to cast a vote in elections to voice our opinion with regard to who we believe will best represent our community. But if you’re a convicted felon, that right can be taken away.  In a democracy, voting is a right, not a privilege. Yet in our country, well over five million citizens are unable to participate in this most basic, fundamental right of citizenship. For example, Kelli Jo Griffin, a mother from Iowa, lost her voting rights when she was convicted of a nonviolent drug offense. Griffin completed the terms of her probation, and turned her life around.  But when she brought her kids to her polling place to show them how we vote, she was arrested and charged with voter fraud. At trial, the jury acquitted Griffin, but she is still unable to vote. Iowa’s extreme disfranchisement policy permanently bars ex- felons from voting, which the ACLU is challenging in court 

This story signifies that even nonviolent felons are being blocked from casting their vote, a right we hold so dearly. In Wyoming, we have proposed legislation that will be debated in the upcoming session that would automatically restore the right to vote for one-time, non-violent felons, following completion of their sentence. The benefits of voting are significant. Research demonstrates that individuals who vote are more likely to be involved in their communities, and for those with felony convictions, participating in the voting process is consistent with a reduced likelihood of re-arrest.  

In Wyoming, individuals convicted of a single non-violent felony can have their voting rights restored five years after completion of sentence. Individuals with more than one conviction- even if non-violent- have their voting rights permanently removed unless they are restored by the governor, which rarely happens. As citizens of Wyoming, we understand that voting is a fundamental right and part of our civic duty, and we need to restore a political voice for those who have completed their sentences for mistakes they made. To do so will strengthen our community and honor our democracy. 

Click here to read more about Wyoming's current laws on restoration of voting rights, or here to learn more about the ACLU’s work to protect voting rights. 

Hannah Nerone
ACLU of Wyoming Intern

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What the numbers tell us about students with disabilities

On October 21 the U.S Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidance to schools reinforcing the fact that bullying is not to be tolerated in our schools.  The guidance included a reminder that this applies to those students with disabilities.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act outline school’s responsibilities to take immediate action to investigate any allegations of bullying and to take steps to stop the bullying and ensure prevention of any reoccurrence. All programs that receive federal funding are mandated to bar discrimination on the basis of disability.

Unfortunately, in our nation’s schools and in Wyoming schools, discrimination and bullying of students with disabilities does not always come from students, but from teaching staff and administrators.  One in three of all children arrested have a disability and those with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before they leave high school than other students.

What we know is that children who are forced into the “school to prison pipeline” are less likely to graduate, less likely to be gainfully employed and more likely to end up in the adult prison system.

Wyoming has one of the highest rates of physically restraining students with disabilities in the nation.  Less than 15% of Wyoming students have been diagnosed with a disability, yet 93% of students physically restrained are disabled students.  These numbers show a shocking inability of our education system to effectively assist Wyoming children with disabilities to have productive healthy lives.  Click here to see your school district’s disciplinary data.

Linda Burt
Executive Director 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Are you ready for Election Day?

With less than a week until Election Day, it’s important to remember that every vote counts! In order to participate in the democratic process all voters need to understand the rules in our state, register on time, and show up at the correct polling place. Follow these steps to make sure can vote in this year’s election: 

Election Day is Tuesday, November 4th
Wyoming polls are open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm

·         Make sure you are registered to vote. If you are not already registered, Wyoming allows qualified voters to register at the polls on Election Day. However, you must bring an acceptable form of ID to the polls for same day registration. (example: passport or Wyoming driver’s license)
·         Locate your polling place.   
·         Get to the polls early to avoid the rush.
·         Contact your Wyoming County Clerk’s office with any further questions
·         Learn more about the ACLU’s efforts to protect voting rights.

We encourage all Wyoming voters to make their voice heard and vote in the upcoming election. Voting is one of our most basic rights, and it is the fundamental right which all of our civil liberties rest.