CHICAGO (WBBM Newsradio) — A state lawmaker on Thursday helped launch an effort to register as many ex-offenders as possible to vote, noting many ex-cons don’t know they have that right.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) joined a group of ex-offenders and their advocates at Herb’s Barber Shop in the Austin neighborhood to remind people who have been convicted of a felony that they get back their right to vote when they leave prison.

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“In Illinois it is so very important that people with felonies recognize that, when they’re out of prison, they have a right to vote. Other states, in the South, people with felonies they don’t have that right,” Ford said. “In Illinois, there are 4.1 million people with some form of a background that have a right to vote.”

Quiwana Bell, chief operating officer of the Westside Health Authority, said advocates for ex-offenders in Illinois want to make sure those 4 million people know they can vote, and “they need to vote.”

Clifton “Booney” McFowler, a case manager with BUILD Chicago, an outreach group which specializes in gang intervention, prevention, and youth programs for at-risk teens in the Chicago area, said many ex-offenders like himself don’t know about their voting rights.

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“A lot of brothers and sisters that’s coming home from prison in Illinois don’t even know that they have the right to vote,” he said.

Ford said if ex-offenders across the country had the same rights of ex-cons in Illinois, they could be a powerful voting bloc.

“This last presidential election, the president won the White House with 62 million votes. There are over 100 million people across America with some type of criminal record or background. The re-entry community could elect the next president of the United States,” he said.

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Ford also said there needs to be a process to eventually clear the criminal records of even violent ex-cons.