Delaware law restores voting rights for ex-offenders

Governor Markell is joined by lawmakers and supporters after signing the law allowing ex-offenders more voting rights. (File/WHYY)

Governor Markell is joined by lawmakers and supporters after signing the law allowing ex-offenders more voting rights. (File/WHYY)

A few Wilmington residents will head to the polls for the first time to vote thanks to a new state law restoring voting rights to ex-offenders.

Though the new law made headlines in July when it was signed by Gov. Jack Markell, a local man is on a mission to make sure people are aware of it. His name is Vash Turner, and so far he has registered at least 400 ex-offenders since last month. 

“Sometimes they get out, they lose fight because they feel as though they’re not a part of society anymore,” Turner said.

Throughout the years, state leaders have taken several steps to help ex-offenders feel like they are a part of society. Years ago, ex-offenders were allowed to vote after a five year waiting period and settling court fees.

“People have a civic responsibility to be in the politics of their own neighborhood,” said a man who goes by the lone name Salih. The opportunity is something Salih vows to never take for granted again.

“The thing that people fought for and marched for…the right to vote and all those things you’ve seen happening in the black community is because if you’re disenfranchised you can’t control any of the policies that’s affecting you and your neighborhood. So it’s a good thing that you have the opportunity to vote and to influence who’s going to be in office and what policies that they’re going to adopt,” Salih said.

Haneef Salaam also learned quickly how important it is to have a voice on Election Day.

“I feel like election is a time everybody across the country, let alone in our state, can just come together and just be happy to practice their right as an American citizen and when you don’t have that right, it feels like you are on the outside looking in,” Salaam said.

Even when he couldn’t vote, Salaam maintained a positive attitude, making sure his voice was always heard through others.

“Since 2004, every major election year I’ve helped somebody’s campaign -I remember helping Beau Biden, and I remember helping Senator Coons campaign. I would volunteer on these campaigns but I would hide the fact that I couldn’t vote,” Salaam said.

In September, Salaam will finally be able to do just that: cast his vote. His hope is that the state continues to move in the right direction in helping ex-offenders.

“I feel like we have a long way to go. We are far from equality, we are far from giving individuals a second chance to redeem themselves and live life as a normal citizen in our society,” Salaam said.

As for Turner, he remains committed to registering ex-offenders. He does so through the organization ‘Standing on Life’-a name he believes best describes its mission.

“You have people that have felonies that want to stand on life so now we register them to vote and they are standing on life,” Turner said.

Every Thursday, Turner sets up shop at the Longshoreman’s Hall in Southbridge to register ex-offenders. The deadline to register to vote in the primary election is August 20th. For the November’s general election, Turner says ex-offenders have until October 15th to register.

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Tune into First tonight at 5:30 p.m. and again at 11:00 p.m. to watch the full story and hear what others have to say about Delaware being the 40th state to adopt the new law.

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