Sunday, May 19, 2013
AUGUSTA — The father of a 19-year-old Wayne girl murdered in 2007 told lawmakers Monday that the “depraved animal” who killed his daughter should not be able to vote while serving his time in prison.
Donna Mills and her husband, Tim Mills comfort each other during a poem reading in September 2010, at the State of Maine 3rd Annual Day of Remembrance For Murder Victims ceremony held in the State House Hall of Flags in Augusta. Tim Mills on Monday testified in favor of L.D. 573, which would prevent murderers and class A felons from voting while incarcerated.
Staff file photo by Joe Phelan
“It is reprehensible, offensive and unjust these criminals are able to vote under Maine law,” said Tim Mills during a hearing before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.
Mills said he used to take his daughter Aleigh to the voting booth every year to teach her about citizenship. She voted only once before she was murdered, he said.
John A. Okie, 22, was convicted in 2010 of murdering his father, John S. Okie, and Mills. He will be in prison for at least 50 years.
Mills testified in support of L.D. 573, which seeks to prohibit convicted murderers and other class A felons from voting while incarcerated. In addition to murder, class A crimes in Maine include manslaughter and gross sexual assault.
Maine and Vermont are the only two states in the country that allow felons to vote while in prison.
Bill sponsor Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, called it “strange and inappropriate” that Maine is one of only two states that allow felons to vote.
“I think we’re a little bit of a laughingstock here in Maine,” Knight said. “This is a case where it’s an embarrassment to be leading. We’re not leading. We’re trailing. We’re outliers. We’re the ones who are off-base.”
The bill drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Maine Council of Churches, League of Women Voters of Maine, Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, the NAACP and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. They argued that convicts are being punished by incarceration, that voting helps felons stay connected to the communities to which they will return and that it would be an administrative nightmare to determine which felons can continue to vote while in prison and which ones will not.
Bob Talbot of the Bangor branch of the NAACP read a statement from the Maine State Prison chapter of the organization. The statement referred to the five previous votes by legislators since 1999 to reject similar efforts to prevent felons from voting.
“It is difficult to understand why this issue keeps returning year after year,” he said. “We can look to 48 other states for proof that this legislation will do nothing to prevent crime or protect citizens. We grew up in Maine communities, and most of us will one day return to them.”
Civil rights advocates, in a prepared statement, also criticized the proposed law by saying attempts to limit voter participation disproportionately affect minorities and poor people, who are jailed at higher rates.
“As a state that leads the way on voting rights and takes great pride in civic participation, we should not undermine this essential freedom,” Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement.
Dunlap said prisoners now vote by absentee ballot from the town where they resided before they were convicted. In addition to being difficult to administer, he said the pursuit of vengeance is not a good reason to change the state constitution to prevent a particular group of people from voting.
“The use of the word ‘felon’ is very convenient because it creates in the public mind the faceless menace,” he said. “That these are not actual people, that somehow these are monsters and we are somehow protecting society one step further. The question that comes to my mind is, what does the act of casting a ballot have to do with serving one’s debt to society for any crime?”
The committee will consider the bill in work session in the coming weeks. Given that four of the co-sponsors serve on the committee, it is likely to head to the House for consideration.
But it needs two-thirds support in the Legislature to pass before it could go to voters on a future ballot.
Jackie Dion of Livermore, whose sister-in-law Judy Flagg, 23, was stabbed to death in 1983 in Fayette, told lawmakers that Flagg’s killer, Thomas H. Mitchell Jr., should not be able to vote.
Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison in June 2009.
“In 1983, Thomas Mitchell gave up his right to freedom,” she said. “Judy Flagg is not able to speak. Her rights have been taken away forever.”
Susan Cover — 621-5643