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Parolees and probationers should have the right to vote

I was incarcerated for 20 years. When I was in prison, I decided to use the time and the opportunity to turn my life around.

I signed up for every program I could, from courses in computers and web design to self-help groups like Narcotics Anonymous and AA. I started a record label with Juan Gambino to spread the message that people can change.

I’ve only been out for 18 months, but I’ve been blessed. I got involved in the construction business and met a woman who has become my rock. She has multiple degrees and a successful career.

New Mexico has a law that says people who are on parole or probation can’t vote. In the last election cycle, I couldn’t vote, but I was determined to participate in other ways.

Over many years, I watched my father help people register to vote, get involved with campaigns, and make sure everyone has a voice. My dad is a pillar of the community and I wanted to do this work with him.

I was always on Facebook, answering people’s questions about how to register and where to go to vote. In many of our communities, the polling locations are far away and hard to find. It’s not always easy and people need help in figuring it out. I did everything I could to make a contribution; helped people put up yard signs, volunteered for a campaign, and talked to my friends and neighbors.

Some people told me they didn’t plan to vote the way I did. I said that’s OK, the important thing is that you participate. If you vote, you’re part of the solution.

Voting is a fundamental right. It is the right that helps us keep all other rights. People who are found guilty of a crime are allowed to maintain other core rights: the right to freedom of religion, the right to freedom of speech, and the right to marry. For sure, the right to vote is on par with those other rights, since it allows us to exercise them and to be heard in our democracy.

We should enable and encourage people who are on probation and parole to exercise this fundamental right and vote. HB 57 would do that and the Legislature should pass it before the session ends.

Everyone, no matter who they are, wants to be part of things. We all want to be heard and belong somewhere. Restoring the right to vote would make us feel human again. Voting is the key to getting back into society and successfully re-integrating into our communities.

A lot of us are parents. We care about our kids, just like you care about your kids. We want to vote for who is going to be on the school board. We want to make New Mexico a place where they can find good jobs and raise their own families someday. …

Passing HB 57 and allowing people on probation and parole to vote would help us all engage and invest in our communities. It would give us and our families hope. And that would be better for everyone.

As I was walking the halls of the State House the other day, a woman passed me and muttered “scumbag” under her breath. I’m somewhat famous in New Mexico, but not for positive reasons. Some day, I hope you will know my name instead because I helped you register to vote, find your polling place, or learn about a ballot measure.