After decades in prison, Columbia man finds a path to the polls for the first time

After decades in prison, Columbia man finds a path to the polls for the first time
(Source: Emily Wakeman)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Absentee voting began yesterday and many election offices are already seeing long lines. Some people in those lines will be voting for the very first time.

Lester Young, 48, was convicted of a felony and served over two decades in prison, but a path to redemption has led him to the polls this year.

Last Friday, Young went to the Richland County Election Office and registered to vote for the first time in his life. He said after serving over two decades in prison, it’s a moment he’s dreamed of for years.

“I was extremely excited about that, that’s something I wanted to do for so long,” Young said.

Young said he was 19-years-old when he was convicted of murder.

“I was sentenced to the department of corrections for life,” Young said.

He said he had never thought about voting.

“Everyone asks like why should I vote? I was that same person like why should I vote, it doesn’t affect me,” Young said.

Young said while serving his sentence, he grew in his faith and started a non-profit called Path 2 Redemption. His mission is to help those in prison turn their lives around and recognize their full potential. He also wanted to help those leaving prison acclimate back into the community and workforce.

“In 2014 when I appeared before the parole board, it was something that I needed to let them know that I was not the 19-year-old Lester who committed a crime,” Young said.

Young was granted parole in 2014, but he still couldn’t vote. South Carolina is one of 20 states where convicted felons can’t vote until after their parole is completed.

“We’re somewhere in the middle,” Criminal Defense Attorney Cameron Blazer said. “There are states that have more liberal voting rules than South Carolina and there are some states that have much stricter rules.”

In 17 states, those with felony convictions only lose their voting rights while incarcerated instead of having to wait to complete parole. 11 states have a stricter law than South Carolina, in which people convicted of a felony might have an additional post-sentence waiting period before their voting rights are reinstated. The District of Columbia, Maine, and Vermont have laws in which incarcerated individuals never lose their right to vote.

Young received a pardon in September, paving the way for one thing he’d been waiting for.

“One of those things was the right to vote, something that I was denied of for the last 22 years,” Young said.

Young said he’s excited for election day and is prepared to wait in long lines.

“I’m excited to get into this thing on November 3, I’m going to stand in this long line and do what I need to do,” Young said.

He said he hopes others recognize the importance of voting and turn out to the polls on November 3.

“If you think about it, this is our opportunity to make a difference in our society,” Young said.

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