According to the Sentencing Project, 5.1 million people with felony convictions are unable to vote in the 2020 election. Felony disenfranchisement is among the over 45,000 collateral consequences faced by the estimated 19 million people with felony convictions.

In response, CEO launched our first-ever voter registration drive focused on helping our participants and others with a felony conviction to exercise their right to vote this cycle. The non-partisan effort, a partnership with Vote.org and Spread the Vote, includes the creation of a voter resource page on our website that allowed voters to check their registration, register to vote, and access other information on voting.

The impact of this effort is best understood through the eyes of one new voter. Meet Ron Waterhouse. Ron grew up in Denver where he was raised by his mom and grandparents. Like many who have left prison in recent months, Ron returned home in a COVID impacted economy needing a job and other services.

Ron found a job upon release through a personal connection, but lost his job when the company founders decided to retire in the midst of COVID and move out of state. Ron struggled to find a job, but kept a positive attitude. “I met a lady on the bus who told me about CEO. I called my PO (parole officer) and got referred to the program.” Ron came to CEO’s Denver office in May of 2020.

How did you learn about CEO’s voter registration drive?

“I received an SMS text message from CEO with a link to the voter page,” Ron admitted that he had never used a smartphone before, so he reached out to Kristen Payne, his Job Developer, who walked him through the process on the CEO landing page. He was able to register online and request his ballot. According to Ron, “You guys did a great job putting it together. It was really simple, I just followed the steps.”

I asked Ron if this was his first time voting?

“Yes, this is my first time voting. My grandparents and Aunt and Uncle who raised me were always politically active and civic-minded, so I learned how important voting is from them. To be honest, the reason I never voted before was because I was pretty much a self-absorbed person who could not see past his own nose. I am excited to be able to vote for the first time in my life.”

Why is voting important to you?

“For the last four years before getting out of prison I have watched the political climate and I have seen how our country has become divided.I realized if you want to change it, you have to participate. I got my ballot and I am going to put my ballot in the box!”

What advice would you have for other Returning Citizens about the importance of voting?

“Get involved. Vote! If you are unhappy about the state of affairs, exercise your rights to do something about it, to change it.”

At CEO, we recognize the importance of civic engagement as a way for returning citizens to be a resource for their communities. Voting is one of the most important ways to do this. While some states like Colorado restore a person's right to vote automatically when they are no longer in prison or detention for a felony, many states do not. To learn more about how to vote if you have a conviction, or if you are a voter with a felony conviction who believes your right to vote is being denied, contact the Campaign Legal Center.

If you would like to support CEO’s work, please visit our donation page.