Bill would restore voting rights to ex-inmates

Sunday, February 13th 2005, 2:19 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Delores Beeler of Collinsville is a member of the League of Women Voters, but she can't vote because she's a convicted felon.

A bill pending in the Oklahoma Senate could change that. The bill by Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, D-Tulsa, would restore full voting rights for ex-inmates when state supervision ends.

Beeler, 43, must wait until the amount of prison time she was sentenced to serve on drug charges elapses before she can register to vote. If state law is not changed, Beeler won't be able to vote until 2014.

She was released from prison in 1999 and is not under any supervision by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections or the Pardon and Parole Board. Because of her felony convictions, she has never been able to vote.

``I was first arrested when I was 18. I have never in my life been able to vote. Never,'' Beeler said. ``The issue for me now is that (voting) is an important thing to feel complete, whole, or to have the same rights as any other citizen.''

McIntyre's Senate Bill 662 would give felons the right to vote once they are no longer under Department of Corrections or Pardon and Parole Board supervision. The measure is expected to be heard this week in a Senate committee.

As a former social worker, McIntyre said she worked with felons and their families.

``These people are going to be reintegrated,'' McIntyre said. ``They, too, will begin to pay taxes. This is taxation without representation.

``Just on a personal, human level, it is a step toward healing them and truly becoming a complete member of society again.''

Forty-eight states have felon voting restrictions at some level, said Rashad Robinson, a spokesman for the Right to Vote campaign.

Some 4.7 million Americans are unable to vote due to felony convictions, according to the New York-based group that works to remove voting barriers faced by felons.

In Oklahoma, a state with a high incarceration rate, that figure is 52,089, according to the organization.

Six states prohibit felons from ever voting, Robinson said. Only Vermont and Maine allow prisoners to vote.