Ex-felons in Baltimore cast ballots after having their voting rights restored

  • Reginald Smith and Trina Ashley exchange a moment as they help get people onto the shuttle from Baltimore’s Penn North neighborhood to an early voting site. Penn North was ground zero for the uprising following Freddy Gray’s death in police custody last year. This year is the first time ex-convicts can vote in Maryland following legislation passed earlier this year.
  • Communities United field organizer Perry Hopkins (second from left) makes sure people get to vote by driving a shuttle from Baltimore’s Penn North neighborhood to an early voting site. 
  • Perry Hopkins shuttles people from Baltimore’s Penn North neighborhood to an early voting site.
  • The area of Penn North has a high concentration of ex-convicts leading to high disenfranchisement rates and little civic engagement.
  • The Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore. Penn North and Sandtown were ground zero for the uprising following Freddy Gray’s death.
  • Field organizer Perry Hopkins about to vote for the first time at an early voting site. Hopkins is an ex-convict himself.
  • A detail of a voting booth at an early voting site in downtown Baltimore.
  • Field organizer Perry Hopkins votes for the first time at an early voting site in downtown Baltimore.
  • Perry Hopkins celebrates after voting for the first time at an early voting site.
  • Trina Ashley from Baltimore’s Penn North neighborhood checking in to vote at an early voting site. This was Trina’s first time voting, she spent almost a decade in prison.
  • Trina Ashley speaks with a voting volunteer as she prepares to vote at an early voting site in Baltimore. This was Trina’s first time voting, she spent almost a decade in prison. 
  • An early voting site in downtown Baltimore. 
  • Trina Ashley votes for the first time after nearly a decade in prison.
  • Reginald Smith from Baltimore’s Penn North neighborhood after voting at an early voting site for the first time “in a long time.” Smith was in prison for 14 years.
  • A sign welcoming voters at an early voting site in downtown Baltimore. 
  • A detail of the a ballot storage cabinet at an early voting site in downtown Baltimore. 
  • A detail of the ballot folder at an early voting site in downtown Baltimore.
  • Dwayne Richardson outside an early voting site in downtown Baltimore.
  • A supporter of Democratic mayoral candidate David Warnock outside an early voting site in downtown Baltimore. 

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BALTIMORE — On the November night in 2008 when the nation elected its first black president, wild celebrations broke out in west Baltimore. But when Perry Hopkins jumped up from the steps of the Chinese takeout where he was sitting and tried to join the party, he was quickly put in his place.

“Somebody looked at me and said: You got a record, you can’t vote. You ain’t got nothing to do with this, you can’t claim this,” Hopkins recalled. “And it hurt.”

A wiry, intense 54-year-old, Hopkins has been barred from voting thanks to an extensive criminal history that he attributes to a past addiction problem. “I’ve done five years three times, and four years once, so I’ve got roughly 20 years on the installment plan,” he said. “I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.”

Of being disenfranchised, Hopkins said: “I felt like my hands were tied behind my back and I was being beaten.”

Now that feeling is gone. On Thursday, Hopkins cast his first votes ever in Maryland’s presidential and mayoral primaries. (He won’t say for whom he voted.) And as an organizer for Communities United, a local community group, he rounded up scores of his neighbors — many of them also former felons — and drove them in a van to the polls, too. “Hey, come vote!” Hopkins was shouting to anyone who would listen Thursday as he stood at a busy intersection, loading up another van with people.

In February, prodded by a grassroots campaign by Communities United and other voting rights and civil rights groups, Maryland restored voting rights to people with felony convictions as soon as they’re released from prison — re-enfranchising an estimated 40,000 predominantly African-American Marylanders. Previously, they’d had to wait until they had completed probation or parole. Democratic lawmakers overrode a veto by Maryland’s Republican governor to push the measure into law.

MSNBC’s Zachary Roth, along with photographer Christopher Gregory, took a look at how the change affected those whose voting rights were newly restored. Read the full story here

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