Voting Rights a ‘Top Priority’ For Middlesex Sheriff Koutoujian; State To Hold Hearing on Letting Felony Prisoners Vote

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Updated on October 6 at 9:43 a.m. with bill hyperlinks.

BOSTON – On Wednesday, October 6 starting at 9 a.m. the Massachusetts Election Laws Committee will hold a hearing on nine bills related to jail-based voting.

Today, October 5, Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian discussed his views on civic engagement and voting for incarcerated individuals.

“Ensuring that any incarcerated individual who is eligible to vote has the ability to do so has been – and remains – a top priority for myself and the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office (MSO),” said Sheriff Koutoujian.

“I grew up watching my father – Waltham’s City Clerk – run elections in our hometown and assist colleagues in several other communities.  As a first generation American and son of Armenian refugees, his passion for civic engagement and voting made an indelible mark on me,” said Sheriff Koutoujian. “That is why access to voting is foundational to my belief in public service and why I am proud of the multiple ways we have increased access to voting” at the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office.

In 2000, Massachusetts voters approved a constitutional amendment banning people incarcerated on felony convictions from voting in state elections. That is about 7,000 to 8,000 individuals. More than 60% of voters supported the ballot question.

But there are roughly 7,500 to 10,000 individuals in jail for misdemeanor convictions or civil commitments, or those awaiting trial, who are legally allowed to vote in elections.

But Senator Adam Hinds filed Senate bill (S18), which would give felony-convicted individuals the right to vote.

“My father was incarcerated, my brothers were incarcerated. I’m actually the only legislator in Massachusetts that has a sibling who is still doing time in the DLC system,” said Democratic State Representative Liz Miranda of the 5th Suffolk District, who filed a version of the bill with the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Framingham & Ashland State Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis, has signed on as a sponsor of that bill.

“Through internal efforts and external partnerships, the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office has placed a strong emphasis on the importance of civic engagement – providing those in our custody with ongoing opportunities to learn about the importance of voting and how to exercise their right to do so,” said the Middlesex Sheriff.   

“During both the 2016 and 2018 election cycles the MSO actively engaged with the League of Women Voters (LWV) to conduct voter education drives, register new voters, and assist those interested in receiving absentee ballots. While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented LWV volunteers from visiting prior to the 2020 election, MSO staff worked directly with eligible incarcerated individuals to facilitate their ability to vote,” said Sheriff Koutoijian.

The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office has “fully incorporated voter registration into our reentry programming. Our staff works diligently to ensure that returning citizens understand their voting rights and the value of civic engagement to a full and successful reentry into society,” said Sheriff Koutoujian.

“Since November 2019, we have helped 192 individuals register to vote as part of the reentry process.  Many of those who registered did not know they would be eligible to vote upon their release and several were registering for the first time in their lives,” concluded the Sheriff. “I look forward to continuing to work with members of the Legislature, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, local elections officials, and community partners to ensure all eligible individuals have the opportunity to cast ballots who wish to do so.”

Massachusetts is one of 14 states that prohibit felony-convicted individuals from voting while incarcerated in prison but return the right to vote immediately upon release.


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