WASHINGTON, USA — The November midterm elections are less than two weeks away and for thousands of people in Washington, it’s the first time they are eligible to vote under a new law that restored voting rights to formerly incarcerated people.
“I was actually incarcerated at 17,” said Cyril Walrond.
Walrond spent 17 years in prison and was released on Aug. 1 at the age of 34.
“The very next day to register to vote and to vote in the primary, really gave me a sense of connectivity within my community, where I realized that it's not just talking and having all these different opinions, but really, I'm making my voice and my vote count,” Walrond said.
Walrond worked toward that day, even while inside prison. He worked with organizations like the Voting Rights Restoration Coalition.
“We have an opportunity to make sure that our voices are heard and that we are doing the things that are necessary to make sure all of our lives are being represented. That's what true equity looks like,” Walrond said.
Under the new law that went into effect in January of this year, it automatically restores voting rights to people who have been released from prison after committing felonies, even if they are on parole. That means thousands will get the chance to vote for the first time this November.
“The shift is that we're moving away from the kind of forever labeling people that have past convictions, and treating folks as outcasts for the rest of our lives or their lives, to welcoming people home, when they get released,” said Christopher Poulos, Director for Person-Centered Services at the Department of Corrections.
Poulos knows how that feels. He served three years in federal prison in Pennsylvania, a state where inmates could vote. However, Poulos’ ballot came a day too late, but that’s when his interest in voting restoration for people with convictions started.
Poulos said the ability to vote helps make people feel a part of the community and reduces recidivism.
“When people do really feel included, the chances are that they're going to act the same way and act positively in our communities,” he said.
Poulos said under the new law, 13,000 more people across the state are eligible to vote.
A moment Walrond doesn’t take for granted.
“Just feeling so empowered in that moment, and hoping that others who are also system impacted are able to feel empowered by the opportunity of voting as well,” said Walrond.
Walrond is also a member of the Black Prisoners Caucus, the Outreach and Advocacy Manager for the University Beyond Bars, and works with the Washington Voting Rights Restoration Community. On Tuesday, he was working to give back in his community by helping make sure others know they are eligible to vote at the R.I.S.E Center of Hilltop.
“It feels amazing. It feels like a redemption story in every sense of the word, knowing where I've been, and knowing how far I've come, but knowing that I've been blessed with community and loved ones around me to help me on this journey,” Walrond said.
The Department of Corrections is working with the Secretary of State’s Office and The Washington Voting Rights Restoration to get the word out about the new law.
Walrond is also working on getting those in jail who are currently awaiting their trial registered to vote and has done so for 91 people in Pierce County Jail so far, with plans to help those in King County Jail.