From the UA News Center | Two UA students who are passionate about social justice are getting an experiential learning opportunity working with Return My Vote and UA’s chapter of Vote Everywhere. Their tenacity is not only building up their resumes but preparing them to be leaders now and after graduation.
Maddie Minkoff and Sam Robson are the only two college students on the advisory board of Return My Vote, a go-to virtual vote restoration clinic and collaboration between The University of Alabama and Greater Birmingham Ministries that helps eligible Alabama citizens with felony convictions restore their voting rights.
“There’s a common misconception that you lose your right to vote if you go to prison,” said Minkoff. “So we’re reminding people that they might actually be eligible.”
Passed in 2017, Alabama HB 282 defined which felony convictions would disqualify citizens from voting. As a result, people with felony convictions not on that list could possibly restore their voting rights.
Return My Vote uses the online public court records database Alacourt to see if an individual’s voting rights can be restored either immediately or through fine or fee repayment or restitution.
Minkoff is a senior from McDonough, Georgia, majoring in political science while also earning her master’s in public administration through UA’s Accelerated Master’s program. Tulsa, Oklahoma, native Robson is a junior political science major and Blackburn student who was recently recognized by the Andrew Goodman Foundation for his voting rights restoration work on campus.
The students have even received grants to help train fellow UA students to use the Alacourt database. “We’ve been able to train 40-50 students on how to use the Alacourt database,” said Robson.
Using identifying information obtained from the person inquiring about their voting rights, the students use the public court records database to determine if that person’s conviction is a disqualifying offense.
They have also been participating in tabling events in Selma and Bessemer to reach as many Alabama citizens as they can. Inquiries come from citizens mostly in the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham area, but more areas of Alabama are reaching out.
Minkoff and Robson want to be a touchstone for those who could use their help.
“We see ourselves as a service provider,” said Robson. “There are groups around Alabama working on inmate re-entry and they can’t necessarily take this on. We’re also looking to work more with grassroots organizations.”
Dr. Richard Fording, a political science professor and a leading member of Return My Vote said Minkoff and Robson have been instrumental to the program’s success.
“When I approached Maddie and Sam with this idea I really didn’t know how it would turn out. We were all kind of embarking on a big adventure together. They have played a very significant role,” he said. “It is really taking off now and that never would have happened without the creativity and energy they have poured into this project.”
Both students agree this type of hands-on experience has been invaluable. “I want to work for a social justice nonprofit and I needed an internship,” said Minkoff. “I had taken Dr. Fording’s Poverty and Public Policy course and I liked it, so I walked into his office one day and asked him if he had anything cool I could do. So here I am.”
“This is why I chose The University of Alabama — for these types of actual experiential opportunities,” said Robson.