CINCINNATI — When it comes to voting laws for people with criminal records, the most important thing is combating misinformation, Maj. Robert McNeil said.
McNeil works with the Hamilton County Office of Reentry, which aims to help people transition from life in jail or prison to life in the community.
Social services staff at the Hamilton County Justice Center will obtain and mail absentee ballots for people who are incarcerated. But McNeil said many people have the mentality that they won’t be able to vote once they’re convicted, so there is no point in voting while awaiting trial. But that’s not always the case.
People who have been convicted of a misdemeanor can vote, even if they are incarcerated, according to the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.
People who have served a felony sentence can also vote, if they re-register.
It’s vital that this population make their voices heard, director Trina Jackson said.
"Things that impact returning citizens on a daily basis can be addressed sometimes at the ballot box … they have a right to vote and they actually have the ability to affect change hopefully from a public policy standpoint about what happens to them,” Jackson said.
While people still have until Monday to register, McNeil said it can be a hard sell.
"Well that's definitely a challenge because not only are you dealing with people that have been convicted, but you're also dealing with people that are at or below the poverty level. So voting in their minds becomes low on their level of importance when you have to face these day-to-day issues,” McNeil said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order in December, restoring the voting rights of more than 100,000 nonviolent felons.
Kentucky and Indiana also allow anyone awaiting trial to vote by mail, according to Julia Vaughn with Common Cause Indiana.
"Indiana does not permanently disenfranchise anyone who has a felony conviction on their record,” Vaughn said. “As long as you've served your time, paid your debt to society, your voting rights can be restored here in Indiana. But unfortunately, I find that that is very misunderstood."
A state-by-state patchwork of voting laws for people who have been incarcerated hardly helps.
"One thing that I believe changes minds is continuous outreach,” McNeil said.