Thirty-nine-year-old Alex Friedmann of Memphis has never voted for president.
In 1987, he was convicted of armed robbery and assault with attempt to commit murder. Friedmann served 10 years and finished parole in 2005.
The following year, the state of Tennessee passed a complicated law requiring ex-offenders like Friedmann to pay off all restitution fees before registering to vote. "In order to regain my voting rights in Tennessee," he says, "I had to pay $900."
After months of legal wrangling, Friedmann was finally able to register last Friday. "We have a history-setting presidential election coming up," he says, "It's good to be able to participate."
But come Nov. 4, millions of former felons won't be voting. In the case of 5.3 million of them, legally they can't, because they have been convicted of a crime. In a number of other cases, however, it's simply a matter of incorrect information.
State laws regarding voting rights for ex-offenders are so varied and confusing that even election officials are unsure of the rules, according to a new study by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Researchers found, for example, that half the election officials interviewed in Colorado didn't know that residents on probation were allowed to vote. And in New York, New Jersey and Washington state, officials had created voting requirements that made registering impossible in some cases.
"A third of the election officials said they would require individuals with felony convictions to provide some kind of documentation before allowing them to register to vote," explains the Brennan Center's Erika Wood. "Even though that documentation is not required by law and in some cases, particularly here in New York, actually doesn't even exist!"