#UnlockTheVote: Trinity Students Work to Restore Voting Privileges to Parolees
What does it take to win an issue campaign in the Connecticut State legislature? This semester, a team of Community Action Gateway students (Sophia Lopez ’22, Richard Perry III ’22, Leah Swope ’22, and Olivia Zeiner-Morrish ’22) partnered with Blue Ribbon Strategies and the Unlock the Vote Campaign to support S.B. 25 An Act Restoring Electoral Privileges to Felony Convicts Who Are Currently on Parole.
Their project consisted of three parts:
- Researching criminal disenfranchisement laws in key states around the country
- Creating infographics for lobbying efforts and attending public hearings and press conferences at the State Capitol
- Garnering grassroots support for the bill in Hartford through conducting and transcribing interviews.
In their policy research, students found that it is estimated that about 6 million Americans are barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws— but Connecticut is one of a handful of states with legislation pending to change that.
The team created an infographic (pictured below) about S.B. 25 that was used when lobbying legislators. Students worked in the classroom to think about communications projects related to legislative advocacy— Who’s the audience? What are the tested messages, phrases, or buzzwords community partners are using? What action do we want the legislators to take, and is that clear in our content?
Two of the messages that students identified were important to their community partners were 1) felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact Black Americans (coming from a long history of disenfranchisement laws that have their roots in the Jim Crow South) and 2) New England is the only state that currently disenfranchises parolees.
For the final component of the project, students conducted and transcribed interviews with Hartford residents as well as Trinity College students on their thoughts regarding felony disenfranchisement. Throughout the semester, students were able to get first hand experience inside the Legislative Office Building and the State Capitol with their community partners to experience the policy research, media strategy, public testimony, lobbying, and communications components that are necessary to run an issue campaign like this. Additionally, they were able to provide their community partners with an immediately useful infographic as a tool for pushing the bill forward and creating social change. Congratulations to partners at Blue Ribbon Strategies on your work this legislative session and we hope to see this bill get across the finish line!
In the Community Action Gateway, first-year students learn how to create community change with community activists, neighborhood organizers, government leaders, non-profit directors, journalists, and social entrepreneurs in Hartford. If you have questions about the Gateway, contact Director of Community Learning Megan.Hartline@trincoll.edu.