Have you ever thought about what it would feel like to have your freedom to vote taken away? At one point in my life, this was my reality.
My name is Zach Winston. I am the Policy Director at the Oregon Justice Resource Center, I am a husband, and I am a formerly incarcerated citizen.
In 2008, as a college student who mixed alcohol and bad decisions, I was arrested. I pled guilty, and was incarcerated.
Prison was a shock to my system. For the first time, I lost my freedom to vote—my right and power to have a say and affect change. I saw elected leaders abusing their authority and making decisions that negatively impacted me, my family, and my community. But I had no way to hold them accountable.
Once I returned home, I turned my painful experience into purpose. Now, I am fighting to change policies so that no one experiencing our criminal justice system is stripped of their voting power.
This country was built on the freedom to vote, but that freedom has been weaponized to silence certain groups—especially Black Americans. Policies like felony disenfranchisement are Jim Crow era relics. Attacks on our freedom to vote only accomplish one thing: ensuring our country returns to the 1800s when the only voters were the white, wealthy male minority.
There are already over 5 million Americans who are currently stripped of their freedom to vote because of their past convictions. Millions more could have that freedom taken away after this year’s elections.
I have immense pride in having my freedom to vote back—my power to have a say again. As part of the community of currently and formerly incarcerated people, it is my duty to lift them up. My vote can do that. And so can yours.