Felony Disenfranchisement

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The Drug War, Minorities and the Rust Belt

The Rust Belt is no stranger to America’s drug prohibition war. In her recent book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," former Stanford Law professor, civil rights lawyer, and current Ohio State University faculty member, Michelle Alexander convincingly paints the war on drugs as far more than just a failed multi-decade policy that has resulted in America becoming the prison capital of the world. She positions the drug war as part of a racial caste system that has imprisoned over a million African American men and disenfranchised even more.
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Rustwire.com
URL: 
http://rustwire.com/2011/01/25/the-drug-war-minorities-and-the-rust-belt/

Disenfranchisement News: Date Set for Disenfranchisement Court Case

 

 

In this issue

·         Indiana: Former Town Councilman Sues for Voting Rights 

·         Washington State: Date Set for Felon Disenfranchisement Case

·         National: 45 Years Later, Gains of Voting Rights Act Must be Advanced Further 

·         National: Report Finds Interaction with Law enforcement Reduces Political Participation

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September 15, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

Indiana

Former Town Councilman Sues for Voting Rights

Former Roseland Town Councilman David Snyder is suing the state of Indiana for removing his name from voter registration rolls after a 2008 misdemeanor battery conviction. WNDU Indiana reports that Mr. Snyder served time behind bars for the offense and that anyone who is imprisoned for even a misdemeanor crime in Indiana is automatically removed from the voter registration rolls.

Snyder's class action lawsuit is arguing that the policy violates the Indiana Constitution, which specifically bans those imprisoned for an "infamous crime." In the complaint it is claimed that past Indiana Court of Appeals decisions have defined that term as only applying to felonies.

"I realize if they're doing this to me, how many other thousands of people in the State of Indiana is this being done to?" said Snyder.

Washington State

Date Set for Felon Disenfranchisement Court Case

The full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has set a September 21st hearing date for a challenge of Washington State's ban on imprisoned and community supervised felons. A three-judge panel of the same Court had previously found the ban to be a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the constitutional rights of felons in a 2-1 ruling. The court based its finding on the grounds that the state's criminal justice system is "infected" with racial discrimination. However, that ruling has been put on hold pending the appeal.

The policy dates back to the time when Washington was still a territory.  The case will be personally argued by Attorney General Rob McKenna for the state, backed by Secretary of State Sam Reed.

Known as the Farrakhan case, the lawsuit has been in play for over 14 years and is one of Washington's longest running. KNDO reports that, "if the en banc panel affirms the three-judge panel, the case will be ripe for U.S. Supreme Court review" and that both the Attorney General and the Secretary of State are prepared for such an outcome.

A separate Seattle Times opinion piece by John Payton and Ryan Haygood of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund presents the case against the state. They argue that Washington State has never disputed court findings that African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than similarly situated whites, and that this difference "clearly hinders the ability of minorities to participate effectively in the political process." They claim that Washington has an admittedly discriminatory justice system that cannot and should not be used to take away the most basic right of a free democracy.

National

45 Years Later, Gains of Voting Rights Act Must be Advanced Further

It has been 45 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the progress that has been made must be continued into new areas, according to University of Baltimore School of Law assistant professor Gilda R. Daniels. She writes in The Huffington Post that while major gains have been made in black voter registration and representation, "felon disenfranchisement laws across the country strip the ability to vote from those who are no longer incarcerated and are attempting to become honorable citizens." This has led to the disenfranchisement of more than 30% of African-American males in some states. Daniels argues that the Voting Rights Act must adapt to our new and changing times in order to "ensure equal opportunity for all."

National

Report Finds Interaction with Law enforcement Reduces Political Participation

A new report by Vesla Weaver and Amy Lerman detailed by John Sides in the Washington Post finds that contact with the criminal justice system has a debilitating effect on one's political participation. The report found that, "those with contact at every level of criminal supervision withdraw from political life - they are not in civic groups, they are less likely to express their political voice in elections, they are less involved in their communities." Their research also shows that these interactions breed distrust in local, state, and federal government.

Sides said that proposed prison and justice reforms could lead to a more engaged public and reduce these extremely troubling issues.

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Disenfranchisement News: VA, NY Governors on Right Track

 

 

 

In this issue

  • Virginia: Governor on Right Track » GO
  • New York: Newly Eligible Voters Now Have Right to Registrations Forms, Information » GO
  • Minnesota: Only One Way Around Voter Fraud » GO
  • Tennessee: "Warning:" Know the Rules Before Voting » GO

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August 13, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

VIRGINIA

Governor on Right Track

Since Gov. Bob McDonnell first announced his promise to streamline the voter restoration process for residents with felony records, he has granted voting rights to 506 of the 574 eligible applicants.

This is the first update since the administration announced a 60-day deadline to act on applications and a review process that it said would be faster and more efficient, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Of the total 1,080 applications, 650 were left over from the Kaine administration. Another 430 applications were received under McDonnell's term between January and May.

Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said McDonnell could likely be as progressive as his Democratic  predecessors.  Gov. Timothy M. Kaine restored the rights of more than 4,300 persons. Gov. Mark R. Warner restored rights to 3,486.

In the Times-Dispatch's additional coverage, it reported that Frank Anderson was ecstatic to receive news in the mail about his restoration.

"I thank the governor for doing the right thing, not just for my case, but making the policy clearer," said Anderson, who under Kaine's leadership was denied restoration. "I hope he doesn't stop there."

NEW YORK

Newly Eligible Voters Now Have Right to Registration Forms, Information

Gov. David Paterson signed a new law requiring the Department of Correctional Services and the Division of Parole to provide voter registration forms and information to people who are newly eligible to vote following a felony conviction. New York's new law is the latest in a national trend. Twenty-four other states and New York City already require certain state and local agencies to inform people when their voting rights are restored following a criminal conviction. "It is a simple, workable policy that promises to have a major impact in assuring successful reintegration and reconnection to the community," said Erika Wood, Director of the Brennan Center's Right to Vote Project which helped advocate for the policy change.

MINNESOTA

Only One Way Around Voter Fraud

A Minnesota policymaker wants to institute a photo ID requirement for voting in an effort to prevent felon voter fraud, but advocate Dan McGrath, writing in the Star-Tribune, noted that such a policy would not resolve the issue.

"If [Rep. Dan] Severson really wants to address this problem, a better solution would be for Minnesota to join the 14 states that restore a person's right to vote automatically upon their release from prison (or the two states, Maine and Vermont, that never take away a person's right to vote)," states McGrath, Executive Director of TakeAction Minnesota, a coalition of organizations concerned with economic and social justice.

The continuing debate of whether or not voting by people with felony convictions helped Sen. Al Franken win the 2008 Senate race has resurfaced on Fox News by way of Governor Tim Pawlenty.

"I suspect they favored Al Franken," the Governor told the FOX morning hosts, "I don't know that. But if that turned out to be true they may have flipped that election in a very close election."

His assertions, however, have not been proven, KARE11.com reports, as county officials and lawyers have conducted investigations in the matter. Their findings state that some individuals had been registered but did not vote in the 2008 election. Two individuals have been charged with election fraud. Minnesota law states that individuals are banned from voting until their sentence, including probation and parole, has been completed. Read coverage here. Click here to read a blog post by George Mason University Professor, Michael McDonald.

TENNESSEE

  "Warning:" Know the Rules Before Voting

Prior to the start of early voting, the State Gazette put out a special notice to voters: "Warning: Don't vote in the Aug. 5 county election and state primaries if you're a convicted felon."

The editorial "warned" that state officials are cracking down on illegal voting. In fact, eight people with felony records who voted within the last four years were recently indicted.

"The district attorney said this is the first time anyone has been indicted for illegal voting in Dyer County, and it may not be the last," the editorial stated.

State laws allows some residents to request rights restoration after completion of their sentence. Individuals convicted of murder, rape, treason or voter fraud cannot vote.

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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

  

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News -- July 8, 2010

 

In this issue

·         International: Kenyan Prisoners to Vote in August; Disenfranchisement Addressed Across Borders » GO

·         Oklahoma: State Officials Still Confused » GO

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July 8, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

International

Kenyan prisoners to vote in August

After a petition was filed by prison inmates in Mombasa, a Kenyan court has decided to allow prisoners to vote in the upcoming August election.  It is the first time that Kenyan prisoners have been given the right to vote, BBC reported.

"It is a credible decision," said Hassan Omar Hassan of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. "The punishment is supposed to be reformative and when people are incarcerated they lose their freedom but other rights should stay."

A Business Daily editorial, which makes mention of the U.S. standard of denying voting rights, applauded Kenya's reform stating: "It represents a change in the way our justice system and the public at large is now looking at jails - not as institutions for punishment but as instruments of correction where inmates are treated with respect and dignity even as they are helped to walk away from their criminal past."

Disenfranchisement Addressed Across Borders

Radio Bilingüe's program, "Linea Abierto," examined disenfranchisement in a broadcast featuring Myrna Pérez of the Brennan Center, rights restoration advocate Andrés Idarraga, and Pastor Gilberto Velez. The program, based in Mexico, highlighted the various impacts of voter disenfranchisement to the Latino community. To listen to the Spanish broadcast, click here.

Oklahoma

Good Behavior + Credits + Release = Continued Disenfranchisement

Tulsa World columnist Julie DelCour explains the rule of law in Oklahoma: "If an inmate receives a 10-year sentence, accrues credits for good behavior and is released early without supervision, he or she still cannot vote until the 10-year sentence expires." DelCour quotes several editorials, including Time magazine and the Chicago Tribune, that oppose disenfranchisement after prisoners have completed their sentence.

Based on a League of Women Voters study, DelCour states that "by some calculations" about 10 percent of Oklahoma's voting-age population has a felony record. Further, the state has the fourth highest per-capita incarceration rate.

"The number of felons serving probation or parole is growing, not shrinking," she writes. "Also increasing is the number of former inmates who followed the rules, participated in programs and received an early release because of their positive actions while incarcerated. They aren't allowed to register to vote, however, because their sentence has not expired." Read article here.

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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

 

Disenfranchisement News: 'Morally Inexcusable'

In this issue

·         International: Refusal to Listen to Court is 'Morally Inexcusable' » GO

·         Alabama: State Officials Still Confused » GO

·         Florida: 'The Problem is the Process' » GO

·         Tennessee: Major Decrease in Newly Restored Voters » GO

·         South Dakota: Settlement Results in Voting Rights Education » GO

·         National: Disenfranchisement's Relationship to Race, Disparity » GO

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June 22, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

International

Refusal to Listen to Court is 'Morally Inexcusable'

The European Court of Human Rights could award each prisoner £750 or more as a result of a delay in the government's inaction to lift a voting  ban for incarcerated prisoners, according to a Guardian column by Juliet Lyon.

In 2004, the court ruled that it was a breach of the European convention on human rights for the UK to disenfranchise sentenced prisoners from parliamentary and local elections. The ban, however, remains in place.

"The persistence of the ban is not only legally and morally inexcusable but has also undermined efforts of the prison service to rehabilitate offenders," Lyon writes.

Alabama

State Officials Still Confused

Advocates in Alabama continue to assert that state and local officials are providing erroneous information about who is eligible to vote, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. As the deadline for voter registration came to a close this month, local minister and voting rights advocate Rev. Kenneth Glasgow said that based on telephone surveys he conducted of county boards of registrars, city and county jails, and state prisons, state officials do not know which felonies disqualify people to vote.

"There is still a lot of confusion on who can vote and who cannot and what crimes involve moral turpitude and what crimes do not," he said. "We find ourselves doing a lot of damage control."

Alabama law bans those who have been convicted of such crimes as murder, robbery, burglary, theft, or sale of a controlled substance.

Florida

'The Problem is the Process'

Mark Schlakman points out in the Tallahassee Democrat that Sammie Smith, former star running back at Florida State and first-round draft choice of the Miami Dolphins in 1989, recently regained his civil rights with the help of his former coach and supportive family members.
   
"A good outcome and equally a good news story, except for the fact that it arguably was necessary for someone of Bobby Bowden's stature and celebrity to weigh in," Schlakman states in his column.
 
Problems in Florida's policy including funding, public safety interests, and the lack of judicial review or legislative oversight, Schlakman says:

"Put simply, the link between civil rights restoration and ex-felon eligibility for various state occupational licenses and jobs that require state certification must be broken. The clemency process was never intended to serve this larger purpose."

Tennessee

Major Decrease in Newly Restored Voters

Maintaining momentum sparked by a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing, the Commercial Appeal published an article that highlighted a decrease in individuals with felony convictions who have regained their voting rights. In 2009, only 736 Tennesseans' voting rights were restored, compared to 2,536 in 2008, according to the Tennessee Department of State.

State law requires individuals who are convicted of a felony to acquire a certificate of restoration, which must be completed by a parole or probation officer and a Circuit or Criminal Court clerk. It is then reviewed by the state election commission for approval.

"Imagine, you're someone who is incarcerated and you don't have the best reading skills and we're asking them to fill out all this paperwork and to go to all these places," said Rachel Bloom of the ACLU.

Stevie Moore, an activist who was formerly incarcerated, is one resident whose rights were restored. He said the law, however, does make things cumbersome.

"All those things keep guys from coming forward and trying to get their life back," he said.

South Dakota

Settlement Results in Voting Rights Education

A South Dakota lawsuit brought by the ACLU resulted in a settlement which now mandates voting rights education to the public and election administrators, the Associated Press reported.
 
The ACLU, on behalf of two Native Americans who were sentenced to five years probation, sued the Secretary of State and State Elections Board for erroneous removal from voting lists. State law removes individuals who have been convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison from voter registration lists. Once a sentence is complete, voting rights are reinstated.

"We are extremely happy that South Dakota and Shannon County are making a serious effort to educate the public and election administrators," said Nancy Abudu, staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta.

National

Disenfranchisement's Relationship to Race, Disparity

Laws restricting voting rights of individuals with felony convictions are not racist or unconstitutional, according to a Los Angeles Times opinion editorial co-authored by Roger Clegg and Sharon Browne.

Commenting on the U.S. 9th Circuit's review of Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a case that claims disproportionate results prove a violation of federal voting rights law, Clegg and Browne argue that, like every other federal court of appeals, the 9th Circuit, too, should rule against applying the Voting Rights Act to extend voting rights to people with felony convictions.

"When someone is kept from voting because he has been convicted of a felony, this does not "result in a denial or abridgement of the right … to vote on account of race or color" (to quote the law); it results in the denial of the right to vote because that person has chosen to commit a serious crime against a fellow citizen."

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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

Disenfranchisement News: VA Essay Proposal Still Receiving Flack

In this issue

·         Virginia: Essay Proposal Still Receiving Flack » GO

·         National: NAACP Publishes Disenfranchisement Report » GO

·         National: Jewish Voice Commentary » GO

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April 26, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

Virginia

Essay Proposal Still Receiving Flack

An article in the Springfield Connection reviewed the continuing debate surrounding Virginia Governor McDonnell and potential plans to add a written component to the voting restoration process for nonviolent offenders. Coming under fire from the Democratic Party of Virginia and advocates and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, opponents said McDonnell's plan would discourage low-income residents and people who are not literate from applying.

The State Column reported that the recent movement has stirred up many advocates and sparked an ongoing debate.

A statement from David Mills, the Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Virginia, was published online. An excerpt of the statement reads:

"Governor McDonnell should immediately remove this costly and burdensome barrier for non-violent offenders to renew their voting and 2nd Amendment rights. It's mind-boggling that Governor McDonnell would choose to bury the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office in unnecessary paperwork during a time of belt-tightening and budget cuts. Surely the Secretary's valuable time could be used in more productive ways than grading essays for Governor McDonnell.

"If Governor McDonnell wants to improve Virginia's prisoner reentry efforts, he should make it easier for those who have completed their sentence to fully integrate back into society … Virginia now may have surpassed Kentucky as the state with the most obstacles to reintegration for non-violent offenders who have served their sentence. Virginians should not be subjected to more bureaucracy getting in the way of their rights to vote, hunt, or exercise any other Constitutional rights."


National

LDF Publishes Disenfranchisement Report

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) recently released "Free the Vote: Unlocking Democracy in the Cells and on the Streets," which details the national impact of disfranchisement laws on communities of color.
"Regrettably, more than a century after emancipation, and in the 45th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act, increasing numbers of Blacks and Latinos nationwide are actually losing their right to vote each day, rather than experiencing greater access to political participation," said Ryan P. Haygood, Co-Director of LDF's Political Participation Group.
The report found the following:

•    Nearly 2 million, or 38%, of the disfranchised are African Americans;
•    One in three of the next generation of Black men will be disfranchised at some point during their lifetime; and
•    In New York, though Blacks and Latinos collectively comprise only 30% of the State's overall population, they represent an astonishing 87% of those denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction.

The report can be downloaded by clicking here.

National

Jewish Voice Commentary

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice featured an opinion-editorial column on depoliticizing the criminal justice system that included a critique of disenfranchising laws.

"It is hard to imagine that the loss of one's vote would deter anyone from a life of crime," writes Dr. Daniel E. Loeb. "Furthermore, permanently barring someone from voting means that these citizens will never fully reenter society even after doing their time. If someone feels down and out and wants to implement change in society, don't we want them to do so with their vote …"

For more national news, click here.

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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

Disenfranchisement News: Governor Backing out of 'Backwards' Requirement?

In this issue

·         Virginia: Governor Backing out of 'Backwards' Requirement? » GO

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April 16, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

Virginia

Governor Backing Out of 'Backwards' Requirement?

Virginia's new governor, Robert McDonnell, last weekend proposed adding yet another hurdle for residents seeking the restoration of voting rights - writing an essay. Despite the fact that 200 letters were sent to individuals explaining the need to write a detailed letter for restoration consideration, spokesman Tucker Martin said the media had reported prematurely and explained that a staffer erroneously sent the correspondence to residents. "This remains a draft policy proposal. Nothing has changed," he told the Washington Post.

He continued, "The Governor believes strongly in second chances and helping individuals regain their voting rights, and he is committed to instituting a restoring process that is the fastest and fairest in the modern history of Virginia."

Throughout this week, organizations, individuals and media editorials called the governor's proposal 'backwards' including coverage on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and a strong editorial in the Washington Post which read:

"Now Mr. McDonnell may be compounding the damage by insisting that nonviolent former felons -- people convicted of shoplifting and other property crimes, for instance -- must do more than just apply to the state if they wish to vote, a process that until now has been time-consuming but generally successful for those who stick with it. Mr. McDonnell would have them submit a letter making the case that they have contributed to society since their release -- an utterly arbitrary standard. What's more, they are asked to explain why they think they should get their rights back.

As we see it, the correct answer is: Because they are rights. Period. By insisting on this exercise in expository writing, Mr. McDonnell is transforming the process into a kind of literacy test -- as obnoxious in its own way as the literacy tests of Jim Crow, which were intended to exclude blacks from voting. Whatever the intent, the likely effect will be to dissuade thousands of people who might otherwise apply."

The news came on the heels of the Governor declaring April "Confederate History Month" without including any reference to slavery; he later apologized and amended the proclamation. As reported by CBS affiliate WTVR, Doug Smith of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy said the idea has racist undertones, stemming from the 1902 Virginia Constitutional Convention when then-Delegate Carter Glass wanted to limit the power of African Americans in politics. In concurrence, American Prospect posted a blog that concluded with "Happy Confederate History Month."

Click the following news links to read more coverage.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Washington Examiner

WHSV, ABC affiliate

Click the following news links to read editorials, blogs and op-ed columns:

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Huffington Post

Alternet.org
Washington Post

The Grio

ACLU

Prior to the governor's recanting, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights wrote a letter to the Attorney General asking if Virginia would seek preclearance for the new requirement under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Democracy Restoration Act Lobby Day is scheduled for April 28 in Virginia to urge leaders to support proposed legislation that would allow individuals with felony records to vote in federal elections.

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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

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United States

Disenfranchisement News: Registered to Vote Before or After Conviction?

In this issue

·         Tennessee: Registered to Vote Before or After Conviction? » GO

·         National: College Press Takes Stance on Disenfranchisement » GO

·         Virginia: Is the Governor's Restoration Power a Conflict of Interest? » GO

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April 8, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

TENNESSEE

Registered to Vote Before or After Conviction?

An investigation has been opened by a District Attorney to learn whether eight individuals registered to vote after they were convicted, according to the Marshall County Tribune. If residents have not had their citizenship rights restored by a chancellor or a circuit court judge, they are banned from voting, according to State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins.

The Department of State's Office of the Elections Coordinator asked the Department of Corrections to compare its list of prisoners with the list of registered voters. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether or not any of the eight people, in fact, registered after a conviction or prior to being sentenced.

"If one of those people was registered to vote before their conviction, then they haven't violated the law because the conviction came after the registration," Goins said.

NATIONAL

College Press Takes Stance on Disenfranchisement

Howard University's student publication, The Hilltop, published an editorial in support of voting rights for individuals who have felony offenses on their records. The Hilltop's position is that the offenses individuals are charged with "shouldn't have anything to do with the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution."

The editorial continues: "They are people and, more importantly in this case, American citizens, ergo their fundamental right to vote should be immediately restored upon the completion of their sentences."

VIRGINIA

Is the Governor's Restoration Power a Conflict of Interest?

In the News & Messenger, columnist Davon Gray poses several questions to readers regarding whether or not individuals should regain voting rights after they have completed their sentence. Though Gray doesn't support automatic restoration to all individuals, he does state that a different system than the one presently used in Virginia should be in place for rights restoration. "Personally I like the idea of the right to vote being restored on a case by case basis. What I don't like is the idea of a governor having sole ability to restore that right," he writes.

Gray goes on to say that rights restoration by a governor could pose a conflict of interest.  He writes that some cases should not warrant loss of voting rights upon completion of sentence.

"If someone steals a dog, should they face a lifetime ban on voting? … I would hate to see someone who has done their punishment for this trying to convince a governor they should have the right to vote back," he writes. "In this hypersensitive 24-hour news cycle we live in, watch groups are just waiting to exploit a politician for being soft on crime if he or she would give a convicted dog thief back the right to vote. The headlines wouldn't say 'Governor Restores Right to Vote for Dog Thief.'  It would be 'Governor Sides with Felon."

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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

 

Disenfranchisement News: Democracy Restoration Act - For and Against

In this issue

·         National: Democracy Restoration Act - For and Against » GO

·         Iowa: Arrested for Voting » GO

·         North Carolina: Eligible, but Vote Didn't Count » GO

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March 30, 2010

Disenfranchisement News

National

the Democracy Restoration Act - For and Against

Continuing to highlight the March 16 House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Democracy Restoration Act, coverage by Voice of America highlighted Marcus Martin and Andres Idaragga - two formerly incarcerated men who advocate for reenfranchisement. Martin, a Maryland resident, is not eligible for vote restoration until 2020.

"Whatever rights that a normal citizen should have, I believe I should have them as well since I've served my time and I'm back in society as a paying taxpayer and community activist," said Martin.

Idaragga's rights were restored in 2006 when the issue became a ballot referendum in Rhode Island. "Voting is particularly important because when we exclude people for voting, we're excluding them from the fundamental act of what it means to be a citizen," he said in an interview following his testimony before Congress earlier this month. Read Daily Kos for more on Idaragga.

Fox News' Glenn Beck commented on this week's New York Times editorial and the momentum behind the Democracy Restoration Act.

"Now, let me ask the New York Times: You are saying that we should restore - because you've paid your dues, you're going to restore the rights. All of them? Are you going to restore their right to the Second Amendment or is it only the voting rights?"

WorldNetDaily also featured an article highlighting an opposition point of view, which stated, "critics have also hinted that the law is politically convenient for Democrats." The Wall Street Journal featured a blog post on its Web site highlighting various media coverage and inviting comments on the issue.

For additional coverage, read the Huffington Post and the New American.


Iowa

Arrested for Voting

An Iowa resident was arrested this week for voting in the November 2008 election, according to the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. Kevin Prosper Janeau, who received probation for forgery in 2007, was officially discharged in October 2009 - a year after having cast his vote. Iowa law states that residents charged with an "infamous crime" - felonies and aggravated misdemeanors - lose their right to vote, according to the Governor's Office. According to officials, if a person attempts to register to vote when they don't have those rights restored, the Auditor's Office sends a letter to the person. Nonetheless, a county elections official said it's a "common occurrence" for ineligible people to apply for voter registration.

North Carolina

Eligible, but Vote Didn't Count

A federal judge in North Carolina recently ruled in favor of the Pasquotank County Board of Elections in a lawsuit filed by a resident who claimed he had been led to believe his vote would be counted in the primary election.
Peter Burke Sr.'s right to vote was restored in 2005 following a conviction, but he failed to register to vote prior to the May 2008 primary, the Daily Advance reported. Burke sought $1 million in damages and verification that his vote would be counted in future elections.

"It is undisputed that plaintiff failed to comply with the statutory requirement to re-register and was thus precluded by law from voting in the May 2008 Primary," Chief U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan wrote. "In fact, plaintiff has not presented any evidence that defendant's conduct was due to discrimination based on his race."

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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

Disenfranchisement News: 2009 In Review

In this issue

·         Policy Reform» GO

·         Media » GO

·         International » GO

·         Litigation » GO

·         Research » GO

·         Organizational Support & Advocacy » GO

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December 22, 2009

Disenfranchisement news:
Year in Review

Disenfranchisement reform received a great deal of attention throughout 2009, spurred in part by the excitement behind a historic presidential race at the close of 2008. Advocacy campaigns and media coverage gave light to the many individuals throughout the nation who were able to vote for the first time after having their rights restored. More than a decade after The Sentencing Project began to campaign on this issue, disenfranchisement reform has won editorial support in the media, gained legislative momentum from policymakers, and has been highlighted as a key area of research in the academic community.
 
The following is a selection of the highlights of disenfranchisement activity during 2009 in the areas of policy change, media attention, international reform, litigation, organizational support and advocacy, and research.

Policy Reform

The Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 was introduced, a federal measure that would restore voting rights to millions of Americans with felony convictions. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced the bills in both chambers of Congress. An estimated 5.3 million citizens cannot vote as a result of felony convictions, and nearly 4 million of these individuals are living and working in their communities. The Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 would establish a uniform standard restoring voting rights in federal elections to anyone who is not incarcerated throughout the nation, even if individuals are barred from voting in state elections.
 
A broad advocacy coalition pushed hard for the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act and it is expected to advance in the Legislature. The legislation, SB 240, would immediately return the right to vote to residents once released from prison. If passed, the law would affect more than 41,000 persons on probation or parole. Along with many other organizations, both liberal and conservative, The Sentencing Project submitted testimony to the Wisconsin Legislature in support of the bill. The bill passed out of the Executive Committee on Corrections and Courts and awaits a vote from State Senate and Assembly.

Washington State eliminated a disenfranchising policy which banned individuals with felony convictions who had not paid all financial obligations associated with their sentence from voting. Following the change, the ACLU of Washington launched "Promote the Vote" to educate newly enfranchised Washingtonians about their rights.

MEDIA

A New York Times editorial in support of reform called felon disenfranchisement  "bad prison policy," calling out states that upheld voting rights bans in California, New York and Massachusetts.

Editorial support was also garnered in support of the Democracy Restoration Act from The New York Times, the Patriot News in Pennsylvania, and the Detroit Free Press.

With President Obama's U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, news outlets recalled her dissent in the case of Hayden v Pataki, in which she argued that the federal Voting Rights Act protected ethnic minorities in the area of felon disenfranchisement, Ballot Access reported. A New York Times op-ed column responded to controversial quips stating that her decisions were "color blind."

INTERNATIONAL

The Sentencing Project and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the discriminatory effects of felony disenfranchisement. The report examines the practice of felony disenfranchisement in the United States and the nations of the Americas, and analyzes the impact of these polices on racial and ethnic minorities. It also describes the international momentum in support of reform, both among treaty-monitoring bodies at the United Nations and in jurisprudence in a number of countries, and calls upon the Commission to examine this practice among its member states.

LITIGATION

A federal judge ruled in favor of the ACLU of Pennsylvania in a lawsuit that claimed the removal of voting rights ads created from public buses was discriminatory, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. According to the suit, the Port Authority unlawfully refused to accept the ACLU advertisements designed to inform the public that residents with felony convictions have the right to vote.

Advocates were not so victorious when the California Supreme Court let stand a ruling upholding California's "absolute" ban on voting by incarcerated persons and parolees, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise reported. The justices unanimously declined to review a lower court ruling where plaintiffs, representing people in prison and parolees, stated that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only permits disenfranchisement of persons convicted of common law felonies. California currently disenfranchises incarcerated individuals and parolees, but allows those on probation and formerly incarcerated to vote.

Several states, including Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, brought cases against individuals with felony records who voted in the November 2008 election. Charged with voter fraud, most claimed they did not know they were, in fact, banned from voting, nor had received information from registration or polling sites telling them otherwise.

RESEARCH

Challenging theories and political fears that re-enfranchising individuals with felony offenses would dramatically impact the outcome of political elections, a study was released out of the University of Louisville Department of Justice Administration. Having polled disenfranchised voters who were on probation and parole in the state on their voting preferences, the report found that full participation by disenfranchised individuals would not have altered the outcome of the November 2008 senatorial and presidential election in Kentucky. The report, which was featured in the Federal Probation journal, contends that individuals who have completed their sentence "remain disadvantaged and carry less than complete rights of citizenship."

ORGANIZATIONAL SUPPORT & ADVOCACY

The Family Life Center of Rhode Island released a new analysis that demonstrated a high level of interest in the electoral process by individuals on probation or parole. Following a 2006 ballot change to state law, 6,330 probationers and parolees - representing more than a third of the 17,600 state total - registered to vote during the 2008 election cycle. Of these, 3,001 voted during that time.

"My First Vote," a compilation of stories from individuals with felony records around the country who voted for the first time during the November 2008 election, was published by the Brennan Center for Justice. In an effort to put a face on the issue of disenfranchisement, new voters tell inspiring stories about voting for the first time after being denied that right for so long.

As we all continue to advance reform, The Sentencing Project wishes you a Happy New Year.

Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you Disenfranchisement News and work to restore voting rights to more people with felony convictions in 2010.
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The Sentencing Project is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.

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