A movement is under way to restore voting rights to more ex-felons, The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports.
“The biggest obstacle in most states is that people just do not know that they ever could get their rights restored,” said Edward A. Hailes Jr., managing director and general counsel at the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization.
An estimated 5.85 million U.S. citizens cannot vote because they have a felony conviction on their record; most of them are out of prison and on parole, probation or other surveillance having completed their terms, according to the Sentencing Project.
The number quoted reflects an estimate of those who were convicted before they were 18 years old. Some reformers say the concept known as “felony voter disenfranchisement” runs counter to basic ideas about democracy and leaves entire communities without a voice, the Sentencing Project relates.
With contests being decided by a few hundred votes, as was the case in Florida, it is concluded that former felons could help make a difference for candidates in close races.
The Exchange reported there has been a recent easing of state activity around the country as it relates to voting for those with criminal records. This gives some reformers optimism, as involved felons won’t have to wait out their full terms before exercising their newly restored rights to vote.
It’s important to change laws and to make sure those with felony records who can vote know they have that right, said Tomas Lopez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.
The disenfranchised group includes about 2.2 million Blacks – indicating roughly one in 13 Black adults is denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction, the Sentencing Project reported.
“Even if only one person was affected by this policy, it raises fundamental questions by what we mean by democracy,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project.
Twenty-eight states passed laws on felon voting rights restoration; many of them lifting restrictions. Seven states repealed lifetime disenfranchisement for some people with felony records, according to the data maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Some states moved in the other direction, such as by Iowa.
Last fall, outgoing Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, issued an executive order that would have made it easier to get people to the voting booth; incoming Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, rolled it back, saying the issue is a legislative one.
In 2015, three states considered major reforms, including Maryland. Wyoming passed a bill that would allow more ex-felons to vote, the Exchange reported. By early February of this year, 46 bills had been introduced in 16 states that deal with felony voter rights, nearly all of which erased the process for offenders or offered support to navigate the rights-restoration process, the story stated.
|“Even if only one person was affected by this policy,
it raises fundamental questions by what we mean by democracy”|
State reforms alone will not be enough, though, said Lewis Webb of the American Friends Service Committee. Better education about who can vote and grassroots action to get people to the voting booths are also needed.
“I do believe for this to have any real traction, it’s going to have to return to the street,” Webb said.