Date: February 5th, 2024
To: Chairman Gannon and Members of the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee
From: Gwen Smith, Criminal Justice Policy Manager, Empower Missouri
RE: Support for SB 1199 and Restoring Voting Rights
Empower Missouri has been committed for over 120 years to improving the quality of life for all Missouri residents through advocacy and policy change. Since our inception, Empower Missouri has focused on the criminal justice system and its impacts. Our Community Justice Coalition consists of community advocates and organizations from across the state who work with those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Many coalition members are formerly incarcerated or have currently incarcerated loved ones, and all are connected by a vision for a future without mass incarceration. We support SB 1199 and restoring voting rights to individuals on probation and parole.
People on parole and probation are your constituents and our neighbors. Each of us has unique insight into our own lives and experiences with Missouri policy that others, including elected officials, simply will never have the chance to experience. When we delay the restoration of voting rights until a term of probation or parole is complete – which can be years – this can mean that individuals who know best what helps and hinders their everyday lives are not always represented in state policymaking. We believe that the majority of our state representatives and senators take seriously the idea that they represent everyone in their district. We also recognize the reality that elected officials pay more attention to voters, and when people’s right to vote is delayed or denied, their preferences and interests won’t be attended to.
Additionally, if we expect people to reintegrate into our communities successfully, we must also provide them pathways to meaningful engagement. Engaging in the civic responsibility of voting is a meaningful (re)connection to the greater community. Delaying the restoring of an individual’s voting rights puts up barriers, disenfranchises, and encourages isolation instead of what is needed, which is moving toward what it is to be a flourishing member of the community. A single vote does not change outcomes, but it is an important part of making a person feel like a contributing part of the whole, counting as a full citizen.
Missouri is one of fifteen states where people with a felony conviction lose their voting rights through incarceration and while on parole and/or probation. Empower Missouri urges this committee to join the other states that have taken steps to restore voting rights immediately after incarceration and vote do-pass for SB 1199. Thank you for your time and consideration of this very important matter.