LaWanda Hollister left prison in May, eager to vote for the first time in the August primary election.
But exercising her right came with roadblocks.
The 51-year-old Detroiter needed a state ID, but she didn’t have her vital records after 34 years incarcerated. After a frustrating and unsuccessful trip to the Secretary of State’s branch office in June, Hollister found an advocate who helped her get her state ID without her birth certificate.
She received her ID on Thursday, registered to vote and cast an absentee ballot at the clerk’s office, selecting candidates based on two issues most important to her: the Black Lives Matter movement and ending mass incarceration.
“I want to elect officials that will support my community,” Hollister said.
More: New Michigan program will help people on parole get IDs upon release from prison
More: Criminal justice a central issue in Wayne County state House primaries
Michigan is among 16 states and the District of Columbia where people convicted of crimes lose their voting rights only while incarcerated and automatically have their rights restored upon release, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. People in Michigan can vote while on parole or probation. Proof of residency, such as Hollister’s state ID, is required to register to vote within 14 days of Election Day.
Tuesday’s primary also marks the first time that 50-year-old Herb Allen is voting. While incarcerated, he doubted that a single vote could make a difference. President Donald Trump’s narrow victory in Michigan in 2016 changed his outlook, he said.
Now that he’s out of prison and has the right to vote, he’s most concerned about affordable housing, criminal justice and police reform, and employment. He looks for candidates who’ve done work in the community at the grassroots level.
“I tend to be a person who believes in regional politics, that everything is local,” said Allen, of Detroit, who goes by the name Jamil Allen-Bey. “And those are the people who I focus my attention on, including the Wayne County prosecutor.” Allen added that he voted for Victoria Burton-Harris, the progressive challenger to longtime Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
Criminal justice reform is also important to Darrell Siggers, 56, of Redford, who spent 34 years in prison before he was exonerated in 2018. He has voted before and said this election – in the middle of the pandemic and during ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism – feels different.
“It seems more substantive because the people are really paying attention to the issues,” he said.
Some formerly incarcerated people such as TaMuk Scruggs, of Detroit, are putting energy into informing people involved with the criminal justice system of their voting rights. Scruggs, 49, said he has spoken on radio shows and on podcasts to educate the public that people jailed on pending charges can vote absentee.
“Pretty much anywhere or everywhere I go, the conversation comes up,” he said.
Demetrius Titus, 52, votes with his 5-year-old son in mind. He wants to pave a better future for him as a Black boy growing up in America, in hopes that his son won’t endure the oppression he said his family has suffered for generations.
Titus, of Taylor, was incarcerated in his early 20s and released from prison after he was granted a commutation in 2009.
“When I came home, I wanted to shout as loud as I could to be heard,” he said. “I actually feel now that although I only have one voice, it carries the weight of hundreds of men and women that I personally know who are left back in prison.”
Here are some things to know if you’re a returning citizen who plans on voting in Michigan:
You cannot vote while serving a sentence in jail or prison.
You are eligible to vote by absentee ballot in jail while you’re awaiting arraignment or trial. Michigan allows any voter to cast an absentee ballot. Completed absentee ballots must be returned to the clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Yes, voting rights are automatically restored upon release from incarceration. The only time your criminal record will preclud…