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Advocates say Baltimore woman convicted of felony mistakenly told she can’t register to vote

A few weeks after Latasha Fason signed up to vote, she got a letter from the Baltimore elections board saying her registration would be canceled because she had been convicted of a crime.

Fason said she felt silenced.

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“That’s my voice,” she said of her vote.

A group of voting and prisoner advocates joined the 36-year-old woman for a news conference Wednesday outside the city elections office downtown. They said Fason should not have received the letter because a 2016 state law ensures that Marylanders convicted of felonies can register to vote as soon as they are released from prison.

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“The law says that if you have a felony, even if you are on probation and parole, you have the right to vote,” said Nicole Hanson-Mundell, executive director of the group Out for Justice, which advocates for people who have been incarcerated.

Hanson-Mundell had helped Fason, who was sentenced to probation, register in September. It was two days after Fason was released from incarceration.

“I knew that I have the right to vote,” Fason said. With the election approaching, she said, “I knew time was cutting close, so I wanted to get the registration in.”

Advocates at the press conference were part of the Expand the Ballot Coalition, which launched an effort this year to help register eligible voters in correctional facilities. They’re also educating people who were once in prison about their voting rights.

“We’re standing here to call for making sure that voting rights are accessible to all Marylanders,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland.

She said the matter “is a racial justice issue as well.” The state’s population is about 30% Black, she said but 69% of Marylanders who have been in prison are Black. Maryland had the highest Black prison population in the nation in 2018.

Prior to the 2016 law, people convicted of felonies could not vote until they completed probation or parole.

Shortly after that state measure took effect four years ago, the city board erroneously sent letters to dozens of people who had been convicted of felonies, even though they were eligible to vote.

Armstead Jones, the city election director, said Wednesday the court system sends the state Board of Elections information about people who may be ineligible. That information is then forwarded to the local election boards, which send out the letters.

Jones said that Fason needs to speak with election officials about her situation.

“I think that’s all that needs to be done instead of doing grandstanding,” Jones said.

In statement, the Maryland Board of Elections said they “received a report from the judicial system that [Fason] was convicted of a felony and sentenced in mid-September 2020.”

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“Using the information in the report, we removed from her sentence the number of days suspended by the court and, according to the balance of time, calculated that she was currently incarcerated,” they said.

They said the letter “allows for the voter to respond before the voter’s record is cancelled.”

Fason said that she has tried to call election officials, but hasn’t been able to get through.

“The longest I waited on hold was an hour,” she said.

Jones, of the city elections board, said the phone lines have been inundated lately.

“This is election time, the phones are jumping off the hook,” he said.

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