Support Grows for the Democracy Restoration Act
The Democracy Restoration Act would restore federal voting rights to felons who have served their sentences. The bill was introduced last summer by Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. John Conyers. The Judiciary Committee, Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee held a hearing on the bill last week.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, an estimated 5.3 million American citizens cannot vote because of a criminal conviction. Of these, 4 million are out of prison and living and working in the community. Restoring a person’s right to vote is a critical element to successful reentry into society after incarceration and consistent with our democracy’s modern ideal of universal suffrage. 4 million Americans cannot vote because they suffered a felony conviction.
It's way past time to change that. I had a female client in a fraud case several years ago. She was getting a six month sentence, but cried throughout the taking of her guilty plea. The judge asked her why she was so upset. She told him she had prepared to give up a lot of things for her crime, but the one that she was having the hardest time adjusting to was giving up her right to vote. She had always been a grass-roots volunteer and it was one of the most rewarding things she had done. She just couldn't fathom how if she pleaded guilty and did the time and was a model prisoner, why they wouldn't let her vote when she was done. A lifetime ban on federal voting is too great a penalty to pay, especially for one who had a single transgression and very unlikely to be back ever again.
The New York Times had this editorial urging passage this weekend. If this bill passes, I'll agree, we've had some change we can believe in. [more...]
From the Times:
There is no good reason to deny former prisoners the vote. Once they are back in the community — paying taxes, working, raising families — they have the same concerns as other voters, and they should have the same say in who represents them.
Disenfranchisement laws also work against efforts to help released prisoners turn their lives around. Denying the vote to ex-offenders, who have paid their debt, continues to brand them as criminals, setting them apart from the society they should be rejoining.
As the Times wrote in 2006:
Although elections are generally considered state matters, the federal government has a proud tradition of enacting laws, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when states wrongly deprive some of their citizens of the franchise. For reasons of both principle and sensible social policy, Congress should step in and give ex-offenders the right to vote.
Let your elected officials know this is an important bill to pass. An easy way is to send a letter through at Change.Org.
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