Critical Civil Rights Bill Introduced
WASHINGTON – House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced bills in both chambers of Congress today that will restore voting rights to millions of American citizens with past felony convictions. An estimated 5.3 million citizens cannot vote as a result of felony convictions, and nearly 4 million of those individuals are living and working in their communities. The Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 is a welcome measure that will establish a uniform standard restoring voting rights in federal elections to millions of Americans who are not incarcerated, but continue to be denied their ability to fully participate in civic life.
States have vastly different approaches to permitting citizens with past criminal convictions to vote. For example, some states permanently disfranchise some, but not all, citizens with felony convictions, while others allow voting after a sentence is completed or after release from prison. Two states, Virginia and Kentucky, permanently disfranchise citizens with felony convictions unless the state approves individual rights restoration; two states, Maine and Vermont, allow all persons with felony convictions to vote, even while incarcerated; all other states fall somewhere in between. Unfortunately, there has been widespread confusion about the proper administration of state laws that has contributed to the disfranchisement of even eligible citizens.
The following can be attributed to Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Legislative Counsel:
“The Democracy Restoration Act is necessary to restore the voting rights of millions of American citizens who have had their right to vote revoked because of a past felony conviction. These citizens work, pay taxes, live in our communities and bring up families, yet they are without a voice.
“Worse still, felony disfranchisement laws are rooted in the Jim Crow era and were intended to bar minorities from voting. To this day, they continue to have a disproportionate impact on minority communities. Moreover, revoking the right to vote for millions of citizens is not only undemocratic, it is counterproductive to the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of those released from prison.”