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Felon Re-Enfranchisement: A Civil Rights Issue


Emma Tynan ’20 is one of 200 Hamilton students conducting research or completing an internship supported by the college this summer. Here she describes her Emerson Foundation research project under the guidance of Phil Klinkner, the James S. Sherman Memorial Professor of Political Science and Professor of Government.

What is your research project?

I am studying the different types of policy implementation for re-enfranchising former felons. So, that’s a really complicated way of saying that felons usually get the right to vote back through executive order, legislation, litigation, or a ballot proposal. I’m going through to see whether there’s plusses or minuses to putting it on the ballot and doing constitutional amendments via popular vote or doing legislation or whether an executive action on its own is the strongest way to accomplish that.

About Emma Tynan ’20

Major: Public Policy

Hometown: Springfield, Mass.

High School: Minnechaug Regional High School

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What does your work entail?

I spent a long time reading the actual pieces of legislation or executive orders and picking them apart to see where the person who is writing it is coming from. Then, even more, looking at academic reports on implementations’ effects and spending a lot of time reading through hearings. 

Have you found anything interesting so far?

So far I have been looking at the executive order in New York that allowed felons on parole to start voting. That was really interesting because a lot of people say Governor Cuomo implemented it for a political reason, which for people who support re-enfranchisement seems great, but when you start looking through the senate hearings, you find out that it wasn’t implemented as clearly as possible.  Governor Cuomo’s staff never talked to parole officers, never talked to head of law enforcement for the state. There’s just so many people who got left out of the conversation, so there’s been … not problems with the equity of implementation but the efficiency of implementation.

What do you hope people get out of the project?

I definitely think re-enfranchising felons is a really important thing and comes down to a civil rights issue. I’m hoping that my project helps people becoming more aware of the different things happening across the country and the different ways people are being re-enfranchised. Also, from an academic standpoint, giving advice on which tactics are the most effective. 

Why Hamilton?

I definitely wanted a smaller environment, and it came down to finding a liberal arts college and that was also needs-met. 

Do you have any post-grad aspirations?

I am hoping to get my P.hD. in public policy or political science directly after graduation. That’s a process that’s ongoing at the moment. But long-term I would like to work for an NGO or a think tank.

Is there anything else people should know about you or your project?

I guess the thing that shocked me the most about my project that I would want other people to know is just the amount of African Americans that end up disenfranchised. I think we don’t even think of this number, but it’s huge. I was looking at specifically Kentucky the other day, and one in three African-American men are disenfranchised in Kentucky. One in three! That’s an insanely large number. . . . I think just the way disenfranchisement affects minority communities … that’s something that people should probably know about and I had no idea. 

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