Latasha Fason was convicted of a felony in September, but thanks to the hard work of Nicole Hanson-Mundell, not only was she freed from incarceration, but she was also registered to vote for the upcoming General Election days later – thanks in large part to a 2016 law enabling those formerly incarcerated for a felony conviction the ability to vote once they were no longer “Behind the Walls”.
However, it appears as if that memo was not sent to the very men and women tasked with enforcing the law, as the Baltimore City Board of Elections sent a rather rude letter to Ms. Fason informing her that her voter registration status was being cancelled. On Saturday, October 10, 2020, the Baltimore City Board of Elections sent out this voter registration cancellation letter informing the newly registered Ms. Fason that her voter registration was cancelled due to a “notice” they received from the Maryland court system that informed them she had been convicted of a crime that required the cancellation.
“After this election, the state Board of Elections may need to pay OFJ to train their local board members and employees on what the law actually says so we won’t keep having to fix their mess.” ~ Nicole Hanson-Mundell
Sending this letter to Ms. Fason’s home address, the BOE was prepared to remove her name from the voting rolls due to an apparent error on their part; however, they were now requiring Ms. Fason to show cause on why she should not be removed and prevented from voting this November. And now voting rights advocates are demanding answers as to why this letter was sent out in first place, since Ms. Fason registered to vote in-person, post-incarceration, weeks prior to this letter’s issuance.
“This is the second time in the past month – first in Prince George’s County and now in Baltimore City – that a member of the Board of Elections gave false information to individuals formerly incarcerated for a felony conviction regarding their voting rights,” says Nicole Hanson-Mundell, Executive Director of Out for Justice. “I personally helped get Ms. Fason out of jail, and registered her to vote myself, after informing her about the laws around felony voting, only to have the BOE send her a letter that was false, not to mention extremely rude.”
Advocates question how the BOE erroneously sent such a letter to someone who was clearly home from incarceration since she registered in-person with her home address, which due to the recent 2016 law meant she could vote regardless of the charge she was convicted of. They also are trying to determine how many other formerly incarcerated felons may have received this letter in error ahead of the November 3rd election.
“I can bet that she wasn’t the only one to receive this letter in error,” Nicole says, as she and her group Out for Justice seek to educate the community on an law that she says most members of the Board of Elections don’t even know accurately.
“Three weeks ago, a member of the PG County Board of Elections stated on video in an event sponsored by their State’s Attorney [Aisha Braveboy], that felons couldn’t vote until they completed their court-ordered sentence, which is absolutely incorrect; and yet the media reported on it as if it was gospel, which works to undo all the hard work us advocates have been doing for months, or even years, trying to educate this community on their right to vote,” says Life after Release founder Qiana Johnson.
Advocates are also questioning why the Board of Elections would send this letter to Ms. Fason’s home address while expecting a response within two weeks if she chose to appeal the decision, if they thought she was in fact incarcerated. “This letter represents so many layers of flaws by the BOE that I almost don’t know where to begin,” says Monica Cooper, a voting rights advocate and founder of the MD Justice Project.
“We would certainly love to know the criteria they used to come to the conclusion that Ms. Fason was somehow no longer eligible to vote, and whether they actually have a system of checks and balances in place to compare the data they receive from the Maryland court system with that of the Department of Corrections to ensure that the individual is actually still incarcerated,” Cooper questioned in the list of demands the group is seeking from the Board.
The group also wanted to make sure that anyone who may have received this letter in error, and has been released from incarceration – regardless of whether or not you are still on probation or parole – that they realize they can vote this November – and to contact OFJ at their hotline: 443.692.7132.
“We have done everything possible to educate and empower those formerly and currently incarcerated regarding their right to vote through our #ValueMyVote campaign, and it is so frustrating to have members of the very agency tasked with enabling them to vote to continue to miseducate people about the law,” says Hanson-Mundell. “After this election, the state Board of Elections may need to pay OFJ to train their local board members and employees on what the law actually says so we won’t keep having to fix their mess.”
Maryland law allows for anyone convicted of a felony, who has completed their court-ordered sentence of imprisonment, meaning they are no longer Behind the Walls (incarcerated) to register to vote – regardless of how many felonies they have or if they are still on parole or probation, home monitoring, etc.… It also enables those who are incarcerated, either awaiting trial and not yet convicted, as well as those only convicted of a misdemeanor, to also be able to register to vote.
This law was first changed in 2007 after passage of the Voter Registration Protection Act, which allowed for those convicted of a felony to register to vote after they completed their court-ordered sentence, which included their entire term including parole and probation. However, in 2015 the Maryland General Assembly eliminated the court-ordered sentence part, enabling anyone convicted of a felony who was no longer incarcerated the right to vote. That law was vetoed by Governor Larry Hogan, but the members of the House and the Senate overrode that veto in March of 2016.
For any further clarification of the voting rights laws in Maryland, including being able to catch up on the timeline of voting in Maryland, go to the OFJ-sponsored website: www.valuemyvote.today