Jason Smith – Turned away at the polls, but determined enough to make sure his voice counted
We heard a few stories throughout Election Day of former felons who had gone through the process to have their vote restored by gubernatorial pardon – and received it – but were still illegally tuned away at the polls. This is one story from former felon Jason Smith (who we interviewed last year) who encountered a lot of difficulty in casting his first vote in a presidential election earlier this month.
"I was excited. I got my right to vote back after working hard to get it back in 2011 and voted for the first time in the General Election last year.
"This was my first presidential election, though, and I was taking it really seriously – learning about all of the issues and candidates and really doing the research to cast a well-informed vote.
"And the line was so much longer than I thought it would be. I waited for almost an hour to vote, but it didn’t matter. It was worth it.
"When I got up to the front, there was a sweet older lady who asked for my name and flipped through the booklet, but just couldn’t find me anywhere. She called the Hardin County Clerk’s office and handed me the phone.
"I couldn’t believe what the person on the other end of the phone was telling me.
"She told me that I’d been 'felony purged.' I objected saying that I’d gotten my right to vote back since then, but she just kept repeating that I was a felon and couldn’t vote – and that I was committing a crime by trying to vote. I was shocked, but determined, so I told her that I’d be over to the county clerk’s office soon to talk about it and then I hung up.
"On my drive over, I called the Secretary of State’s office to talk to them about it and they were very attentive – saying that they’d look into it right away.
"A little while later, I made it to the Hardin County Clerk’s office, and showed people there my framed proclamation from the governor giving me my right to vote back.
"'That means exactly nothing to us, sir,' I was told. And they repeated the same talking points from our phone conversation – telling me that I’m a felon, that I can’t vote, and that it’s a crime that I’m trying to.
"I stubbornly waited in the office and told them that I wasn’t going to leave until I got to vote.
"And that’s when they called the sheriff and three officers came over. They told me that they wouldn’t let me vote even if the president called them and told them to himself.
"I’m not going to lie, I got a bit scared thinking that I might get arrested for exercising my right to vote – for doing the right thing. But then I realized that a lot of good people have been to jail to protect the right to vote. And that's not such bad company to be in.
"But a few minutes later, the Secretary of State’s office called and talked to the county clerk and they decided that they had to let me vote.
"I wish I could tell you that I was a complete gentleman, but I couldn’t help but ask if it was the president on the line.
"I went back to my polling location and a few people there asked questions and I told the story of everything that had happened. And I finally got to vote.
"Afterward, I was looking for one of those 'I voted' stickers. They were out but expected to get more in soon. I decided that I’d waited this long, I could wait a little longer for them to bring back a fresh roll of stickers, but one of the guys who had heard my story gave me his off of his own shirt instead. That was really kind.
"Even after all of that, it was worth it for me to vote. But people shouldn’t have to go through that much grief just to exercise their right to participate in the democratic process.
"There ought to be a better way."