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.

Related: Restoring Voting Rights in South Florida 92004); Time to End Felony Disinfranchisement, 2002. Also see the American Constitution Society webapage on the issue.

< Monday Night Open Thread | The Conservative Health Bill >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    We're way behind the curve of most (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by MsExPat on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 03:51:20 AM EST
    enlightened democracies on this one. In Hong Kong, where I live most of the year, the courts recently made a decision that it was unconstitutional to deny prisoners the right to vote--even while they were in prison.

    The court was assisted in reaching the ruling by jurisprudence on the same topic of the top national courts in Australia, Canada and South Africa, as well as the European Court of Human Rights. Reference was also made to the modern trend towards more liberal treatment of prisoners in terms of voting rights noted in the ACLU's 2006 analysis of "felony disenfranchisement" of various jurisdictions around the globe.

    A long time ago (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 06:25:17 AM EST
    I befriended someone on their way back from a felony conviction.  His family was very involved in the illegal drug trade and I suppose it was a given that he would apply his skills to what he grew up with.  He ended up in prison though.  His sentence was lighter than his fathers and the authorities did work pretty hard keeping them separated because his dad had a very strong hold on him.  I met him after he was released trying to rebuild his life.  He is one of the most brave and kind people I've ever known.  I think about him sometimes and wonder how things came through for him.  The fact that he was less than a citizen forever more though weighed on him heavily, seemed to cause him to feel a little hopeless at different times.  I think something needs to change.

    Disenfranchisement laws... (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 08:33:03 AM EST
    are the modern-day Jim Crow laws...and they belong on the scrap heap of embarassing history with Jim Crow.

    I have never understood the purpose (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Chuck0 on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 08:59:56 AM EST
    of taking away someone's right to vote because they are a convicted felon? Is there some fear that they would go out and vote for the guy who campaigning on a platform of "let's be soft on crime"?? Yeah, there's lots of those around.

    My wife is a convicted felon. I'd certainly like to see her get her voting rights restored.

    I recently read the census will (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by oculus on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 10:58:22 AM EST
    make a special effort to count everyone incarcarated.  Seems to me even incarcerated felons should be able to vote.

    Part Of The Problem (none / 0) (#14)
    by squeaky on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:09:41 PM EST
    Prisons are built particularly with the special effort of counting the incarcerated in mind. A boon to the local Rep, he or she gets state and federal money based on the local population, while staying in power due to a small number of voters who work for the prison.

    Nothing new about that.


    Some argument though as to (none / 0) (#15)
    by oculus on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:23:24 PM EST
    where inmates should be allotted for purpose of redistricting.  In the area of the detention facility or where the inmate last resided prior to incarceration.

    Yeah (none / 0) (#16)
    by squeaky on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:43:47 PM EST
    Here is a good argument for not using virtual corpses, aka bodies that can't vote, for purposes of redistricting.

    Because of the large increase in the [NYS] prison population and where the prisons have been built, the impact on redistricting is not slight. The more than 11,000 prisoners in Senator Volker's district make up 3.3% of his district, and Senator Stafford's district is 4.4% prisoners. Assemblyman Ortloff, your current district is 7.5% prisoners. Eight-six percent of the Black adults you represent are imported into your district and barred by law from voting for you....

    ....The remedy here is simple. Adjust the Census data by restoring prisoners to their home addresses via the addresses on file with the Department of Corrections. Future Censuses should be planned around letting prisoners disclose if their home of record has changed from the address on file.



    I agree (none / 0) (#4)
    by jbindc on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 07:24:25 AM EST
    This seems like a no brainer.  

    Wow (none / 0) (#5)
    by sleepingdogs on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 08:02:03 AM EST
    I can't believe this isn't already done....  That makes me sad.  And sadder still, as DfH points out, now we will have to hear the chant of "soft on crime" as this is discussed.  Let us know how we can help, Jeralyn.    

    Your time is never done (none / 0) (#7)
    by DancingOpossum on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 08:47:16 AM EST
    Doing your time in prison is supposed to be the end, full stop, of what you owe for your crimes. (Whether those sentences are always fair or just in either direction is a separate discussion.) But in this country, it seems, your time is never done. You can't vote, you can't get a job, and god forbid you were a "sex offender," you can't even get a place to live.

    It's high time this law was changed. Of course, the GOP will scream about scofflaws and perverts getting the vote, and insinuate that the Dems are doing this because most criminals vote Democratic, bla bla bla...but Obama should do it anyway.

    Go Russ!!!!!!! (none / 0) (#9)
    by SouthernFriedDem on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 09:20:53 AM EST
    I agree is long past due! 1 in 3 African American males can not vote because they are felons. I wrote a paper about this in APGov  when I was in highschool. What should our collective answer be to the obvious reply from conservatives that "If you are so passionate about politics why did you steal or defraud people of money?" I would say "well it violates individual rights" but they could care less about that unless you are talking about their individual right to shoot things and make as much money as possible.  Also I live in Alabama and have arguments like this constantly with friends of mine.

    Do you know (none / 0) (#10)
    by jbindc on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 10:33:08 AM EST
    What the percentage of convicted felons are that want to or would actually participate in the voting process?  My hunch is that not a large percentage of them would actually vote - I mean, if you rob banks for a living, my guess is that you aren't really a civic minded person to begin with.

    And then there is the person who committed (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 10:59:07 AM EST
    on too many petty thefts.

    True (none / 0) (#17)
    by jbindc on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 07:42:18 PM EST
    But I'm really curious as to what kinds of numbers are we talking here? Is there data available?

    Although I don't have a problem with forbidding current inmates to vote, so the "where do allot the prisoners" argument is moot to me.


    So what exactly does the law say (none / 0) (#13)
    by ytterby on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 12:56:55 PM EST
    about voting rights for felons? It has always been my understanding that the states decide who has the right to vote in that state. For instance, Kansas says

    "Conviction of either a state or a federal felony results in the loss of voting rights until you complete the terms of the sentence. If you are granted probation or parole, your term of sentence is not completed until the probation or parole is finished."  

    So in Kansas, I can vote after I've completed my sentence. That seems to apply to both state and federal elections. I've never seen a cop at the polling site telling people (felons) that they can vote only for statewide candidates.

    I'm a felon (I dislike the word ex-felon, since it's never "ex")who has completed my Federal sentence, and my name is on the voting rolls.

    And, yes, there are some of us who exercise our right to vote. Being convicted of a felony doesn't mean we don't have opinions or the desire to express those opinions.

    Why not all? (none / 0) (#18)
    by Eekhazmat on Fri Jul 23, 2010 at 07:05:46 AM EST
    Why only voting? Shouldn't all civil rights be restored after a first offense?

    I mean I get that this is basically a scam to create more democrat voters, but there's no reason not to go all the way with it.