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Act Could Restore Right to Vote for Millions


Democracy Restoration Act Could Restore the Right to Vote for Millions of Americans

Members of Congress, law enforcement, religious leaders, civil rights organizations and the formerly incarcerated join forces to restore the right to vote

New York -- On Friday, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Representative John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009, a bill that seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4 million formerly incarcerated American citizens who are out of prison, living in the community. The bill is principally based on Restoring the Right to Vote, a policy proposal by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, and is supported by a large and growing coalition of diverse interests including law enforcement officers, religious leaders, civil rights organizations and millions of formerly incarcerated people across the country.

"This is a bold step to eliminate the last blanket barrier to the franchise in our country," said Erika Wood, Director of the Brennan Center's Right to Vote Project.

Currently 35 states continue to deny the right to vote to Americans who have been released from prison, even though they are living in the community - working, paying taxes and raising families. "These laws trace their roots directly back to Jim Crow and were intended to keep African Americans from voting," said Wood. The laws continue to have their intended effects today: nationwide 13% of African-American men are disenfranchised. 

The Brennan Center leads a national campaign to restore voting rights to people with criminal histories. In the last decade, 20 states have restored voting rights or eased the restoration process. This groundswell has created a national chorus calling for change which now includes law enforcement and criminal justice professionals and a broad spectrum of religious leaders. According to Wood, these groups have come together "based on a shared understanding that restoring voting rights to people in the community not only strengthens our democracy, it helps prevent recidivism, protects public safety and is true to the fundamental principles of redemption and forgiveness."

The importance of having a voice in the community was described in the recent Brennan Center publication My First Vote, a compilation of stories from Americans who voted for the first time in November 2008 after having lost, and then regained, their voting rights after a conviction. According to a mother in California who is featured in the collection, "voting . . . is about the inspiration and hope people feel when they have a voice they can use to bring real change." 

Organizations supporting the Democracy Restoration Act include: the American Probation and Parole Association, Association of Paroling Authorities International, National Black Police Association, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, National Council of Churches USA, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, National Association of Faith and Justice, American Bar Association, NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, among many others.  A complete list of supporters, and additional information about the Democracy Restoration Act, can be found here.

For more information or to set up an interview with Erika Wood, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212-998-6289 or or Susan Lehman at 212-998-6318

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