PORTLAND, Ore. – Artist and activist John Legend has lent his voice in support of voting rights for incarcerated Oregonians. In a heartfelt and very personal video message to Oregon lawmakers, Legend urged them to support Senate Bill 571/House Bill 2366, a bill that would restore the right to vote to people with felony convictions who are currently incarcerated. Among other benefits, the bill would address the disproportionate silencing of the voices of Black, Indigenous and Latinx Oregonians due to their higher rates of imprisonment.
Two states, Maine, and Vermont, along with Washington DC and Puerto Rico, currently allow people in prison to vote. Oregon would become the first state to re-enfranchise incarcerated people if SB 571/HB 2366 becomes law since Maine and Vermont never forbade people in prison from voting. The Oregon bill has the support of more than a dozen organizations that focus on civil rights, serving people impacted by the justice system, and/or serving communities of color.
John Legend has frequently spoken out about the need to end mass incarceration, and about the harm it is doing to communities, especially Black, Indigenous and People of Color. He founded FREEAMERICA (https://letsfreeamerica.com/) in 2014, a campaign to end mass incarceration, which he began by traveling the country on a listening tour to understand the challenges facing people impacted by the criminal justice system. What he has learned from speaking to many people in the system, as well as from personal experience, is that more attention should be paid to what is happened to incarcerated people.
“When we talk about restoring the right to vote to people in prison means, we need to remember what not restoring it means,” said John Legend. “Not restoring the right to vote silences people’s voices. Everyone affected by the decision of our democracy should have a say in it. Let’s think about whose votes and voices are not being heard. People in prison have a direct stake in what happens within their four walls, as well as what happens outside. No one stops being a citizen, or a mother, or a father when they are incarcerated.”
“We’re delighted that John Legend is supporting incarcerated Oregonians’ right to vote,” said Kenya Juarez, Interim Executive Director, Next Up Action Fund. “Mr. Legend understands that citizenship doesn’t end at the prison gate, and that Oregonians in prison shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to participate in our democracy. We encourage legislators to take the time to listen to what John Legend has to say about how his own family has been impacted by the justice system and reflect on how many of the Oregon families they represent are in the same situation.”