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Disenfranchisement News

(From the Sentencing Project)

National: Bipartisan Efforts for National Felony Disenfranchisement Reform

With over 5.8 million Americans barred from voting due to a felony conviction, policymakers have started advancing national legislation to restore voting rights, reports The Root. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has recently authored the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act as well as the REDEEM Act, calling felony disenfranchisement “the biggest problem of voting rights facing our country.” Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, author of the Democracy Restoration Act, has echoed Sen. Paul’s concerns. Over 4 million people nationwide are unable to exercise their right to vote even after having completed their prison sentences.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Sen. Cardin’s legislation would restore voting rights to all people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences, whereas Sen. Paul’s bill limits voting rights restoration to people convicted of non-violent crimes who have served some or all of their probation. Although both bills would only impact federal elections, leaving all other elections under state voting laws, voting rights activists are encouraged by the recent bipartisan interest on these issues.

Wyoming

State Bill Could Restore Voting Rights to Thousands

Thousands of people with felony convictions could regain their right to vote under a proposal to be considered by a Wyoming legislative panel, according to The Washington Post. The bill would enact automatic voting rights restoration for people with non-violent, first-time offenses who have finished their prison, probation, and parole terms. According to the ACLU’s Wyoming chapter, the bill would have restored voting rights to 4,200 people between 2000 and 2011.

At present, people convicted of felonies in Wyoming may only regain their voting rights after a five-year waiting period, either through a pardon by the governor or action by the state parole board. However, the parole board has complained that the current policy does not establish criteria for reenfranchisement. Bob Lampert, Director of the state Department of Corrections, told The Associated Press that restoring voting rights may help reduce recidivism. “The data suggest that people who have their rights restored and engage in the voting process are significantly less likely to come back to prison than those who fail to engage in the voting process,” Lampert said. In 13 states, people convicted of felonies can regain their right to vote after they finish serving their prison sentences. An additional 23 states permit people with felony convictions to vote after completing their terms of parole and probation. Maine and Vermont permit all residents to vote, including people in prison.

Kentucky

Louisville Metro Council Unanimously Approves Resolution in Support of Automatic Rights Restoration

The Louisville Metro Council recently approved a resolution calling on state lawmakers to enact automatic voting rights restoration for individuals convicted of most felonies once they have completed their prison, parole, and probation sentences. The Kentucky state constitution bars individuals with felony convictions from voting except by an executive pardon, and changing the state’s disenfranchisement policy requires state lawmakers to draft a constitutional amendment for approval by voters.

In an op-ed in The Courier-Journal, Councilwoman Attica Scott and Bonifacio Aleman, Executive Director of Kentucky Jobs with Justice, argue that applying for an executive pardon in Kentucky is a complex process that can be susceptible to racial bias and can change depending on the governor in office. One former governor required all applicants to write an essay explaining why they deserved the right to vote. The applicants’ fates were determined by the grades their essays received, a process that Scott and Aleman compare to literacy tests of the Jim Crow era. The Sentencing Project reports that in 2010, over 180,000 individuals with felony convictions could not vote in Kentucky, while only 4,260 individuals with felony convictions had their voting rights restored between 2008 and 2010.

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