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Uncovering America's methamphetamine history; PA Early Intervention programs vital for child development; measuring long-term impact of the O.J. Simpson trial on media literacy.

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President Biden's name could be left off the ballot in Alabama and Ohio, the Justice Dept. mandates background checks for gun show purchases, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds moves to allow state police to arrest undocumented migrants.

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Housing advocates fear rural low-income folks who live in aging USDA housing could be forced out, small towns are eligible for grants to enhance civic participation, and North Carolina's small and Black-owned farms are helped by new wind and solar revenues.

Groups Push for Voting-Restoration Rights for Incarcerated Illinoisans

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Tuesday, April 25, 2023   

Groups in Illinois are pushing legislation that would restore voting rights, including for people currently incarcerated. According to Stand Up America, Illinois has "the chance to make history" by being the first state to restore voting rights for everyone. Last year the group conducted a poll which found close to 60% percent of Illinois voters support legislative efforts that guarantee the right to vote for all citizens 18 and older, including those completing a sentence.

Avalon Betts-Gaston, a native of Chicago, said in 2015 she was "wrongfully convicted" for wire fraud and served time in federal prison. Today she leads the Illinois Alliance for Re-Entry and Justice, one of the advocacy groups fighting for voter restoration. Betts-Gaston said the right to vote creates "community cohesion" from inside or outside of jail.

"When people are connected to their community and to their families and in these ways, through civic engagement and things like that, they are less likely to commit harm in their current environment and also commit harm in the communities once they return," she added.

Those opposed to voter restoration argue that when someone is incarcerated, they should lose their right to vote as part of the punishment, Betts-Gaston explained. She counters by saying the sentence is the punishment and everyone has the right to advocate for their community. Nearly 30,000 Illinoisans are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, according to The Sentencing Project.

Katrina Phidd, communications director, Chicago Votes, said they support voter restoration because they "believe democracy works better when more people are involved." Phidd added those in prison are still citizens and have needs, many of whom have families, and explained the dehumanization of the prison population is an issue that complicates measures like this one, and that many are not aware of who really is in the state's prisons.

"We also know this is a racial issue too, I mean, 55% of people in Illinois prisons are Black even though Black people make up less than 15% of the overall state population. Disenfranchisement and that silencing - it has long-term consequences," she said.

Phidd added the Illinois Constitution states the right to vote must be "restored not later than upon completion of one's sentence." She said in order to be compliant with the Constitution, this proposed legislation says a person's right to vote would be restored two weeks after a conviction.


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