Voting is both a fundamental right and a civic duty. However there remains one significant blanket barrier to the franchise:
5.85 million American citizens are not allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction.
As many as 4.4 million of these people live, work, and raise families in our communities, but because of a conviction in their past they are still denied the right to vote.
Felony disenfranchisement laws in the United States are deeply rooted in the troubled history of American race relations, and the disproportionate racial impact of these laws continues to this day.
Nationwide, 13% of African-American men have lost the right to vote, a rate that is seven times the national average.
Given current rates of incarceration, three in ten of the next generation of African-American men across the country can expect to lose the right to vote at some point in their lifetime.
Our guests work to assist people with convictions in their past to regain their citizenship through restoration of their voting rights.
Myrna Pérez, Brennan Center for Justice
Senior Counsel, Democracy Program
Pérez works on a variety of voting rights related issues, including redistricting, voter registration list maintenance, and access to the ballot box.
Previously, Pérez was the Civil Rights Fellow at Relman & Dane, a civil rights law firm in Washington, D.C.
Ms. Pérez graduated from Columbia Law School in 2003, where she was a Lowenstein Public Interest Fellow.
Pérez clerked for the Honorable Anita B. Brody of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and for the Honorable Julio M. Fuentes of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Pérez earned her undergraduate degree in Political Science from Yale University in 1996.
She obtained a masters degree in public policy from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in 1998, where she was the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Public Service.
She was a Presidential Management Fellow, serving as a policy analyst for the United States Government Accounting Office where she covered a range of issues including housing and health care.
Edgardo Cortés, Advancement Project, Director of the Virginia Voting Rights Restoration Campaign
Cortés has worked in elections for more than 10 years, with experience in all facets of the electoral process including campaigns, non-partisan voter registration, federal election policy, and local and state election administration.
Prior, he worked for the Virginia State Board of Elections where he was responsible for updating the state’s Help America Vote Act state plan and Voting System Certification program.
He served as General Registrar for Fairfax County, Virginia, responsible for administering elections in the largest county in Virginia.
Cortés worked for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), serving as the Grants Director and as Deputy Director for Policy.
He was responsible for all federal policy related to the National Voter Registration Act and spearheaded the creation of the EAC’s Language Accessibility Program.
Cortés managed national non-partisan voter registration drives and Congressional field campaigns.
He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Masters degree in political management from the George Washington University.
He lives in Springfield, Virginia with his wife and son.
Kemba Smith Pradia - Author “Poster Child”
Growing up as an only child in Richmond, VA, Kemba Smith Pradia graduated high school and attended the prestigious Hampton University.
Her new campus environment was a nightmare.
Trying to “fit in”, Kemba associated with the wrong crowd and became involved with a drug dealer.
He was a major figure in a crack cocaine ring and drew Kemba right in the middle of his life with physical, mental and emotional abuse disguised as “love."
After enduring this turbulent four-year relationship in 1994, Kemba was sentenced to 24.5 years and served 6.5 years in a federal prison.
She regained her freedom after President Clinton granted her clemency in December 2000.
Her story was featured on CNN, Nightline, Court TV, The Early Morning Show, Donahue, Judge Hatchett and many other television programs.
Kemba is featured in several publications: Washington Post, New York Times, Glamour, JET, Emerge and Essence Magazines.
Linwood Christian, community activist
Christian has a 16-year-old son.
He's director of Crater Health Advocacy and Education Program.
In January 2010 Linwood spoke at a rally for restoration of voting rights.
Linwood re-applied for his voting rights under new Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Virginia's system of rights restoration is arbitrary and capricious (Governor decides).
He received an infamous “write an essay and describe your church activities letter.”
Linwood’s voting rights were restored.
He has continued to assist fellow community members in restoring their voting rights.