Rep. Conyers and Sen. Cardin Reintroduce Legislation To Restore Ex-Offenders’ Voting Rights
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) reintroduced H.R. 1459, the “Democracy Restoration Act of 2015.” Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) yesterday introduced its Senate companion, S. 772. The bill would create uniform federal standards for returning the voting rights of ex-offenders to vote in federal elections. The legislation could result in returning the right to vote for millions of Americans with a prior conviction who served their time and paid their debt to society.
The Democracy Restoration Act is a narrowly crafted effort to expand voting rights for people with felony convictions, while protecting state prerogatives to generally establish voting qualifications. The legislation would only apply to persons who are not in prison, and would only apply to federal elections.
“The denial of voting rights by many states to ex-offenders represents a vestige from a time when suffrage was denied to whole classes of our population based on race, gender, religion, national origin and property. This goes against the very fundamental principles of our Democracy,” said Rep. John Conyers. “Just as poll taxes and literacy tests prevented an entire class of citizens, namely African Americans, from integrating into society after centuries of slavery, ex-offender disenfranchisement laws prevent people from reintegrating into society after they have paid their debt by serving time in prison. Disenfranchisement laws isolate and alienate ex-offenders, and serve as one more obstacle in their attempt to successfully reintegrate into society.”
According to The Sentencing Project, since 1997, 23 states have amended felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. These reforms have resulted in an estimated 800,000 citizens regaining their voting rights. Despite these reforms, over 5.8 million citizens continue to be ineligible to vote in Federal elections. More than 4 million of the disqualified voters are not in prison, but are on probation, parole, or have completed their sentence. Nearly 3 million of the disenfranchised have completed their entire sentence, including probation and parole.
“The United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions. State disenfranchisement laws deny citizens participation in our democracy and the patchwork of laws leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation in federal elections based solely on where an individual lives, in addition to the racial disparities inherent in our judicial system,” said Senator Cardin. “Congress has a responsibility to remedy these problems and enact a nationwide standard for the restoration of voting rights.
The current patchwork of state laws creates widespread confusion among election officials throughout the country. For example, in Ohio, an erroneous interpretation of state law deprived thousands of people with felony convictions of the opportunity to register. Only federal law can conclusively resolve the ambiguities in this area plaguing our voting system.
H.R. 1459 was introduced with the support of the following cosponsors: Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Cummings (D-MD), Rep. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL), Rep. Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Moore (D-WI), Rep. Serrano (D-NY), Rep. Wilson (D-FL), Rep. McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Sewell (D-AL), Rep. Chu (D-CA), Rep. Richmond (D-LA), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Rep. Honda (D-CA).
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Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) serves as the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.