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The Democratic primary race bumped into voting rights for incarcerated people again this week at a CNN Town Hall. Bernie’s on board, Mayor Pete’s a hard no, and both Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren said the idea warrants further “conversation” in the future.

Since it’s Second Chance Month, the annual awareness month dedicated to the stories and challenges of people who are leaving correctional custody, I think we should talk about it now. I want to discuss civic participation as a rehabilitation strategy and voting rights for prisoners as a way to keep people from reoffending.

When we talk about reentry, we think about the structural barriers like employment, housing, identification cards.

These are legitimate challenges for the returning citizen. As many as 27 percent of people released from prison are unemployed despite a cushy job market. Formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public. Even what seems like an easy hurdle to clear — securing an ID card to start the job and housing search — can be next to impossible.

Because social service agencies are so focused on helping people over those hurdles, we miss opportunities to talk about the fact that so much of reentry is emotional and psychological; the biggest barrier is self-concept. A criminal record ostracizes a person relentlessly.

Disenfranchisement is an extension of the criminal label and reinforces the idea that a person will continue to live outside the law. This might explain why people released from prison in states that permanently disenfranchise people — such as Iowa and Kentucky — are roughly 10 percent more likely to reoffend than those released in states that restore their rights, according to one study.

Our memories are short when it comes to voting rights. We’ve forgotten the success story out of Florida years ago. Back when Governor Charlie Crist was in office, from 2007 to 2011, 155,315 offenders had their rights restored. Less than one percent of the re-enfranchised citizens reoffended. It was an unprecedented reduction in recidivism — until the next governor took the rights away.

Voting is collective decision-making; when enfranchised, people see themselves as stakeholders in society, custodians of their communities. So, of course, they’re less likely to break the law.

If voting rights can curb recidivism, then states such as Vermont and Maine, which already allow prisoners to vote, should have rates much lower than other states that permanently disenfranchise people, but they don’t (Vermont houses many inmates out of state, which complicates things).

The reason why “Franchise for all” hasn’t produced the anti-crime effects it promises is that people are confused about whether they can vote. The patchwork of rights across states enables a faulty message that no person with a felony record can cast a ballot. It’s not true. Some can, and some can’t.

And that’s the problem. As many as 17 million people with felony records are eligible to vote but may not know it, so they end up disenfranchising themselves. A study published in Probation Journal found that 68 percent of respondents with criminal records in California didn’t know they were eligible to vote there, which explains why we haven’t seen the public safety payoff to voting rights that we would expect.

Because there isn’t one law on voting rights, an insufficient number of incarcerated people and ex-offenders get the memo that they’re included in society, even in places where they are. Consequently, they miss that boost to self-esteem that being part of the electorate can have on a person.

Misinformation is the enemy here. The way to combat it is to establish one rule on voting, namely that any United States citizen over age 18 can vote, regardless of their conviction history or status as an inmate. The remaining 48 states that don’t allow prisoners to vote should reverse course and agree with Vermont and Maine to not strip anyone of their voting rights. With less confusion will come more voting — and less crime.

We haven’t paid enough attention to the public safety benefits of voting rights for all people, including inmates. Anyone who believes in safe communities as well as second chances should support prisoners’ voting rights.

To find out more about Chandra Bozelko and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

Blake Neff

Twitter screenshot

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

On July 10, CNN's Oliver Darcy reported that Blake Neff, the top writer for Tucker Carlson's prime-time Fox News show, had been anonymously posting racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other offensive content on an online forum for five years. Neff used racist and homophobic slurs, referred to women in a derogatory manner, and pushed white supremacist content while writing for Carlson's show. Neff resigned after CNN contacted him for comment.

As Darcy reported, in an interview with the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Neff claimed anything Carlson read during his show was initially drafted by him. Darcy also found instances where there was "some overlap between the forum and the show," as sometimes the "material Neff encountered on the forum found its way on to Carlson's show."

During a 2018 appearance on Fox's The Five to promote his book Ship of Fools, Carlson mentioned Neff by name, calling him a "wonderful writer." Carlson also included Neff in the acknowledgments of the book.


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Before joining Fox News, Neff worked at The Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet that Carlson co-founded. The outlet has published a number of white supremacists, anti-Semites, and bigots.


Carlson has a long history of promoting white supremacist content on his show. His show has featured many guests who have connections to white supremacy and far-right extremism. Carlson has regularly been praised by Neo-Nazis and various far-right extremist figures, and he's been a hero on many white supremacist podcasts. Users of the extremist online message boards 4chan and 8chan have repeatedly praised Carlson.

The manifesto released by the gunman who killed 20 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 was strewn with content that echoed talking points from Carlson's show. Days after the shooting, Carlson declared that calling white supremacy a serious issue is a "hoax" as it is "actually not a real problem in America."

Carlson has been hemorrhaging advertisers following his racist coverage of the Black Lives Matters movement and the recent protests against police brutality. Now that we know his top writer was using content from white supremacist online message boards for Carlson's show, it is more imperative than ever that advertisers distance their brands away from this toxicity.