Did you know that if you have a criminal record, you can still vote?
In Illinois, people who have been involved with the criminal legal system are still able to vote. People with criminal records can still participate in elections as long as they are not currently serving time on a sentence and they meet all other qualifications. These include being at least 18 years old, a US citizen, and having lived in Illinois for at least 30 days by the date of the next election. If you have been charged, arrested but not charged, in jail but not serving a sentence, or on probation, you can vote!
Voting is one of the tools we have at our disposal to effect the changes we want to see in our society. We are living in an unprecedented time and we must use the systems we have in place to our advantage. The covid-19 pandemic and unrest in response to police brutality have shown all of us that our system of governance does not work for most people. One way we can change this system is by voting for elected officials that have the power to alter structures that have allowed for inequity to prevail for so long.
When you cast your vote, you are helping shape your government. Through voting, people with a criminal record can help elect officials that can change the way we approach criminal justice reform. For example, State’s Attorneys are elected officials that determine how the state prosecutes criminal activity. A State’s Attorney that is committed to harm reduction may choose to charge crimes in a way that will do the least amount of damage possible, and will do everything in their power to direct people away from the carceral system. Choosing the right person to fill this position can mitigate the damage the criminal legal system does to vulnerable communities.
Although it often feels as if unjust laws and policies are impossible for us to change, we have to keep in mind that we make decisions to uphold these systems every day. One of those decisions comes at the voting booth. Electing representatives that are brave enough to challenge and dismantle these systems can make way for a more equitable, humane society. If you have a criminal record, it is important for you to use your voice to help create a government that will not allow these injustices to afflict future generations. Elected officials can help eliminate laws that criminalize poverty, drug use, and mental health disorders. Government officials must address the reasons why people are committing crime instead of the crime itself so that we can begin to build a better future for all of us. The first step is holding them accountable at the voting booth.
*If you have served time on a conviction, you must re-register to vote after leaving prison, even if you had registered before. You can find out your current voting registration status and register to vote here.