Over the past five years, the movement to re-enfranchise people with criminal convictions has been gaining traction with state legislators and the public at large. In the 2005 state legislative sessions, lawmakers introduced 72 bills affecting the voting rights of these people, and more than 90% of these were in favor of voting rights restoration. Public opinion research also shows that a vast majority of Americans - over 80 per cent - believe that people who have completed their felony sentences should have their voting rights restored.
But something was missing from this picture. During those years, Laleh Ispahani at the ACLU had come to know some of the ex-felons working on this issue. She wanted to show how hard these people were working to get their rights back and become participating members of society. And the ACLU wanted to put a face on the issue of felony disfranchisement.
Laleh came to Off Ramp Films with a comprehensive list of activists who could help to personalize the problem of felony disfranchisement, and contacts with a cadre of experts like Lani Guinier, Marc Mauer and Alexander Keyssar, as well as personalities like actor Charles Dutton, who would help inform and educate on the issue.
Discussions with experts yielded five solid arguments against felony disfranchisement, and the ACLU and Off Ramp Films quickly decided to use these arguments as the structure for Democracy's Ghosts. Disfranchising former felons works against rehabilitation, has an impact on entire communities, has its historical roots in Jim Crow legislation, creates expensive and frequently dysfunctional bureaucracies, and is just plain undemocratic.
Throughout the production, key figures in the video like Andres Idarraga, Paul Robinson, Yvonne Cardona, Jesse Clausen, and Jimmy Klinakis continued to impress. Each of them exemplifies a deep commitment to their communities and to democracy as a whole. It now seems abundantly clear to us that they are precisely the kind of people no serious democracy should shut out. As the Off Ramp production team began to be drawn into their stories, they had the idea, in addition to making the film for the ACLU, of producing a one-hour film over a longer time for national broadcast, continuing to film after production for the ACLU ended in October 2005, until the election in November 2006.