Rapper 2 Chainz, a Charlotte attorney and members of a civic engagement organization came together Saturday to encourage ex-felons and others to exercise their right to vote in upcoming elections.
About 40 people attended a workshop and voter registration drive held at the Urban League of Central Carolinas in uptown Charlotte. Some in the crowd had criminal records, organizers said.
The event was organized by the Washington-based Hip-Hop Caucus and its Respect My Vote campaign, a non-partisan effort to get people registered and educated about political issues. Speakers told the crowd it was important for people to know what their rights are and to vote if possible.
N.C. law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from voting while their sentence is active, and their voter registrations are cancelled. It is also a crime for people with active sentences to register.
But people who have completed their prison sentence, parole and probation, or who have been pardoned, have their citizenship restored and can re-register to vote, according to state law. People convicted of a misdemeanor do not lose their right to vote.
South Carolina also permits ex-felons to vote if they have served their entire sentence or been pardoned, according to the website for the S.C. Election Commission.
Statistics show that people with criminal history are less likely than others to vote. On Saturday, speakers said that is because many do not know they may be able to.
Atlanta-based rapper 2 Chainz said he was part of that group. The rapper and ex-felon said he was first arrested when he was 15 for cocaine possession. Now 35, he said he didnt learn he was able to vote until a few years ago when he came across a voter registration drive at an Atlanta mall. A volunteer gave him information, and he said he later got 10 people from his recording studio to vote. On Election Day, he said he wore his I Voted sticker all day.
I felt rejuvenated, he said. I felt like a citizen again.
Earlier, attorney William Harding said he worried about laws in some states that prevent people with a criminal history from voting, saying he felt like it disenfranchised a segment of the community. But he also voiced concerned about people who have the ability to vote deciding not to.
Harding said elected officials have a great impact on peoples lives, creating laws that everyone is held accountable for. If you dont vote, then in essence youre saying, Hey, I dont care about how these votes affect us, he told the crowd.
During a question-and-answer session, attendee Kevin Bridgewater, 23, spoke of the Trayvon Martin case and the public outcry that started after the Florida teen was shot in February. He said that if people rallied for other causes it too could make a difference.
Dimitrios Jordan, 23, was convicted of armed robbery when he was 18 but said he went back to school after serving five months in prison to try to turn his life around. He said he didnt realize he was eligible to vote, and really wasnt interested in doing so anyway. After Saturdays session, though, he changed his mind.
He re-registered to vote and said he plans to head to the polls in November.
It opened my eyes, he said of the event. I want to see change.