Featured Image: Chukundi Salisbury (Photo: Erica C. Barnett)

Local Org Urges Formerly Incarcerated People to Vote Because They Can

by Agueda Pacheco Flores

With election night less than a week away, there is a lot of misinformation about voting rights that Chukundi Salisbury is working to get right. 

Since he founded “UrbVote” in 2015, Salisbury has worked tirelessly to register voters in the South End. But he’s not just focusing on registering teens as young as 16, he’s also focusing on those who are on the furthest end of the margins.

Even before the Washington State Legislature passed a bill to automatically reinstate voting rights to formerly incarcerated people this past spring. But that bill won’t go into effect until January of 2022.

Salisbury says convicted felons could always vote so long as they were no longer under the surveillance of the Department of Corrections (DOC). That means if a formerly incarcerated person had served their time, completed parole or any other sentence conditions, they could vote.

“Ninety percent of King County is registered to vote,” he says, adding that the county has done an amazing job of getting people out to vote. 

“But somewhere along the way we started to think that now that we have that, where is the rest of the work? And a lot of the work is breaking the mist in Washington state that you do get your right to vote restored immediately once you’re off State supervision and most people don’t really tell you that when you get home, it’s a big miss.”

UrbVote, named so in honor of the people inspired and influenced by the traditional understanding of urban culture such as hip-hop and breakdancing, focuses on not just getting the message out there, but being the messenger.

“One of the reasons our campaign has been so successful is because we are trusted and credible messengers in this community,” he says. “We are not out in Enumclaw trying to convince country music fans to vote — that’s not our community.”

The state of Washington’s incarceration rates are higher than most democracies on earth, according to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit that researches the impacts of the prison industrial complex. The nonprofit also points out that people of color, specifically Black and Latino people, are overrepresented in prisons.

“This is where the BIPOC community is at and where you’re most likely to be a felon. The criminal justice system impacts Black and Brown people disproportionately and it impacts them in Southeast and South Seattle,” he says. 

Cleodis Floyd, a longtime South End resident and attorney, who has served his sentence from a previous felony when he was in college, says he always votes and encourages all convicted felons to vote. 

“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Floyd says. “I thought you were barred from voting again but then I did my research.”

Floyd says anyone unsure about whether they can vote should call 1-800-430-9674 and ask whether the DOC has an active or open case against them. The number takes calls Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I think people make mistakes, especially when you’re younger, but who you were 10, 20 years ago ago isn’t reflective of you today,” Floyd says. “You still have a voice in who is elected, every vote matters and if you have thousands of felons who just aren’t voting, it will have an effect on how things turn out.”

There are approximately 37,000 people in Washington jails and prisons, according to PPI. 

Salisbury says any convicted felon not under DOC supervision can show up to any King County election site next Tuesday and register to vote and vote all on the same day.

“Our residents have been disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. We have to put in the extra work to go out and find these people and remind them they can vote and they need to register,” Salisbury said. 

This article is funded in part by a Voter Education Fund grant from King County Elections and the Seattle Foundation.

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured Image: Chukundi Salisbury (Photo: Erica C Barnett)

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