FelonVoting Rights1

Democrats have introduced bills in both chambers of Congress that would restore voting rights in federal elections to former felons.

In the Senate, the Democracy Restoration Act was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), along with Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), among others. The act would guarantee the right to vote in a federal election to every citizen unless they are incarcerated for a felony when the election takes place.

In other words, former felons, and convicted felons currently serving parole or probation, would be guaranteed the right to vote in federal elections, regardless of whether the state in which they reside extends the same privilege in state elections.

According to the findings listed at the beginning of the bill, “about 1 in 40 adults in the United States, currently cannot vote as a result of a felony conviction. Of the 5,850,000 citizens barred from voting, only 25 percent are in prison.”

The findings also state that, “Currently, 1 of every 13 African-Americans are rendered unable to vote because of felony disenfranchisement, which is a rate 4 times greater than non African-Americans. 7.7 percent of African-Americans are disenfranchised whereas only 1.8 percent of non African-Americans are.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has introduced a sister bill in the House, according to a report by Al Jazeera America. Interestingly, the current language of the bill would guarantee the right to vote to persons incarcerated on misdemeanor convictions at the time of a federal election.

“From suffragettes through Civil Rights, expanding access to the ballot box in America has always been a move in the right direction,” Mikulski said in a statement. “Disenfranchising former offenders does a disservice to the very idea of democracy. If an American citizen has paid their debt to society after committing a crime, our focus must be on their rehabilitation and full reintegration into society—voting rights and all.”

Former felons in Maryland currently have the right to vote upon completion of their prison sentence plus any court-ordered term of parole or probation. The Maryland General Assembly is currently considering two bills—one in the House and one in the Senate—that would extend the franchise to felons still serving parole or probation. The Senate version has already received a favorable report, with amendments, from the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee which had considered it.