Felony Disenfranchisement

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The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News & Updates -- March 22, 2007

Maryland: Voting Rights Legislation Cross Filed in House, Senate SB 448 and HB 554 are presently in committee as numerous advocates for felony disenfranchisement reform in Maryland gave testimony to House and Senate members earlier this month, according to the Baltimore Times. Kimberly Haven, Executive Director of Justice Maryland, who also gave testimony said: “This legislation will clarify the efforts of the 2002 legislation, by removing the three-year disenfranchisement period that currently exists. This three-year wait period serves no practical purpose.” Contact Information: Email: [email protected] web: http://www.sentencingproject.org
United States

Disenfranchisement: News/Updates from The Sentencing Project

Washington State: Legislation Aimed at Reintegration Includes Speedy Vote Restoration The Washington Senate approved a bill which is expected to speed up the process of restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. The State Senate approved prison reforms last week in an effort to better prepare incarcerated individuals to reintegrate into society. Alabama: Re-enfranchisement is Still a Dream Deferred In response to the Bloody Sunday March he participated in earlier this month, Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of the Alabama Alliance to Vote stated in a Montgomery Advertiser op-ed that he has yet to see Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream realized when it comes to disenfranchisement. Despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “millions of Americans are still excluded from the polls because of restrictive felony voting laws that reflect the dramatic growth of the prison system in recent decades. At the time the Voting Rights Act was implemented, 1.5 million Americans could not vote because of a felony record. Today, more than 5.3 million people are disenfranchised nationally. This rise in the number of disenfranchised adults is an unfortunate reminder that the fight for voting rights goes on,” Glasgow wrote. Colorado: Lawmakers Say Parolees Can Vote While sifting through its annual election-code clean up, the Colorado Senate approved a bill that would allow paroled individuals the right to vote, according to the Denver Post. “When you look at moving people from prison to society, the more we can get them to be responsible, the less likely they are to go back in,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Groff. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last year that parolees did not have the right to vote. Contact Information Email: [email protected] web: http://www.sentencingproject.org
Washington, DC
United States

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News & Updates - 3/9/07

National: The Cause and Effect of Disenfranchisement; Sen. Clinton Sponsors Disenfranchisement Legislation As a consequence of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s 1974 decision in Richardson v. Ramirez, five million Americans cannot vote as a result of a criminal conviction, states a Legal Times article written by Frank Askin. The decision, based on what Askin terms a "cynical sleight of hand" by Rehnquist, was based on a contentious interpretation of Section 2 of the 14th Amendment. On the 42nd anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) announced the reintroduction of the Count Every Vote Act in both chambers of Congress. The legislation includes vote restoration for formerly incarcerated individuals for federal elections. Florida: Automatic Voter Restoration is ‘Excellent’ A New York Times editorial called Gov. Charlie Crist’s recent automatic vote restoration proposal an “excellent idea.” The editorial applauded Crist’s efforts to restore voting and civil rights for ex-offenders in Florida, and stated the move would speed up the current bureaucratic process. “Northern and Midwestern states are gradually backing away from voting bans for ex-offenders. But these antidemocratic laws remain entrenched in the Deep South, where they were enacted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as part of a broad effort to restrict the political influence of African Americans. And Florida has the most restrictive laws and the highest number of disenfranchised ex-offenders of any state in the country,” the editorial stated. For additional coverage, see Scoop and the Daytona Beach News Journal. Colorado: Parolee Re-enfranchisement Denied Support from Newspaper A change to Colorado Senate Bill 83 would allow parolees to vote – an issue that the Rocky Mountain News editorial board opposes. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, won preliminary passage and is expected to go to the Senate next week. A clarifying statute in the Colorado Constitution states no person “serving a sentence of parole” is eligible to register or to vote. “Whether parolees should vote is a close call, in our view. On balance, however, we stand with the current law, which was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court as recently as last year,” the editorial stated. For more coverage, see the Colorado Senate Web site. Contact Information Email: [email protected], Web: http://www.sentencingproject.org
United States

Disenfranchisement: News/Updates (March 2, 2007 Edition)

[From our friends at The Sentencing Project] Florida: Continued Debate on Restoring the Vote Gov. Charlie Crist postponed a vote this week that would have allowed most formerly incarcerated individuals voting rights upon completion of sentence. The Florida Board of Executive Clemency was expected to vote in favor of the long-awaited change, but Crist did not want to isolate fellow Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum as the lone vote, according to the Miami Herald. “Obviously, I favor the restoration of civil rights and I am optimistic we will be able to get to that point, but I want to build a consensus before we go there,” said Crist following the state clemency board meeting. Prior to the postponement, Attorney General McCollum submitted a list of four recommendations to Crist and the board to reduce the backlog of formerly incarcerated individuals interested in regaining their civil rights, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The list suggested more frequent clemency meetings in addition to drafting a list of those not eligible for civil rights restoration without a hearing. A Tallahassee Democrat opinion editorial discussed the various restrictions imposed on formerly incarcerated persons and the resources necessary for rehabilitation, as pointed out in former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Ex-Offender Task Force report. Author Mark Schlakman also highlighted the necessity of re- enfranchisement both for reintegration and public safety. Alabama: Attorney General Defends View, ‘Sets the Record Straight’ In response to various newspaper editorials and letters to the editor, Alabama Attorney General Troy King defended his view in a Montgomery Advertiser guest column advocating that all persons completing a sentencing should have to apply to have their rights restored. He wrote: “Regardless of what editorialists say, ‘all the conditions of a sentence’ have not been met when a convicted felon completes his or her prison sentence. The suspension of voting rights is not a separate punishment, but part of the original sentence. I have proposed that we return to a more simple and workable solution by removing the civil and political rights of anyone who is convicted of a felony. The Advertiser should be ashamed of its willingness to cheapen democracy by advocating the automatic restoration of rights to felons. The rest of us should refuse to help them.” National: Disenfranchisement Reform Taking Hold "Momentum for felony disenfranchisement reform began 10 years ago. Since 1997, 16 states have taken steps to reform disenfranchisement laws and more than 600,000 people have regained their voting rights," states Kara Gotsch, director of advocacy for The Sentencing Project, in a column featured on Tompaine.com. She notes that policymakers have introduced legislation addressing felony disenfranchisement in 20 states this year, and voting rights advances are expected in Maryland and Florida. Gotsch's piece also highlights the disproportionate racial impact of disenfranchisement policies and emphasizes the benefits of restoring the right to vote upon release from prison. The Washington Informer featured a summary of recent efforts in vote restoration around the nation, including a recent meeting of Maryland African Methodist Episcopal church leaders and state legislators considering re-enfranchisement to formerly incarcerated individuals. Maine: Disenfranchisement Bill is Too Lenient, Columnist Says Representative Steve Hanley is the first Democrat to sponsor legislation denying prison inmates the right to vote in Maine by way of a bill banning voting rights to persons convicted of murder and Class A and B offenses. Kennebec Journal columnist George Smith praised Hanley’s efforts, yet said his bill is too lenient and suggested that all offenders, currently or formerly incarcerated, should not possess the right to vote. Because the legislation requires a constitutional amendment, the bill must win the votes of two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate, which is not considered likely. Vermont is the only other state that allows incarcerated individuals the right to vote. Kentucky: Students Take a Stand in Opposition of Disenfranchisement Students at the University of Kentucky, along with disenfranchised residents, participated this week in Restoration of Voting Rights Lobby Day in support of HB70, which would allow citizens to vote on whether or not to restore some felons' voting rights. If passed, residents will vote in 2008 on whether to change the Kentucky Constitution to allow persons convicted of non-violent crimes to vote after they complete their sentence. See the Kentucky Kernel. Contact Information: Email: [email protected] web: http://www.sentencingproject.org
United States

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News & Updates

Maryland: Lawmakers Push to Restore Vote Maryland lawmakers are pushing a bill that would immediately restore the right to vote following release from prison, the Baltimore Sun reported. The proposed legislation would also change the current Maryland law which bans formerly incarcerated individuals with two felony convictions from voting three years after sentence completion. Bills have also been introduced that would restore voting rights after completion of sentence, including parole. Similar proposals failed in the state last year. For additional coverage, see the Washington Post and the Washington Times. Florida: Gov. Crist Vows to Restore the Vote Gov. Charlie Crist said this week that he may issue an executive order restoring civil rights to formerly incarcerated individuals who have completed their sentences, the St. Petersburg Times reported. “My plan is to work with you to make sure we restore civil rights,” Crist said during a visit with the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators. “The important thing is that we get there. It’s going to be better than where we are now, I can tell you that.” Crist indicated he may still continue to seek a policy change in the four-member Cabinet, or by changing state law, though Cabinet member, Attorney General Bill McCollum, opposes automatic restoration. Alabama: Amending Constitution to State’s Old Ways Will Strip Rights, and Money from State Residents An editorial in the Anniston Star condemned Alabama’s stringent disenfranchisement laws. Commenting on Attorney General Troy King’s proposal for a constitutional amendment requiring all individuals who have completed a felony sentence to apply to the state parole board to get their voting rights restored after finishing their punishment, the editorial board stated: “By adding King's amendment to the Constitution citizens are either voting to raise the revenue for hearing and processing the requests or they are indicating their willingness to accept the problems the amendment will create” for an overworked, overburdened Board of Pardons and Paroles. For more coverage, see Votelaw. Arizona: Accountant Faces Prison for Voting The confusion behind who can vote and when has sparked a court case for an Arizona man who may face up to five years in prison for voting in the 2004 presidential election. Dale Schwartz had been on probation for illegally collecting unemployment benefits, and said he didn’t know the law banned those on probation from voting. Schwartz rejected a plea bargain offer for the voting charge that would have doled out a three-month prison term, according to the Phoenix New Times. “No one ever told me the law about this,” he says. “I just can't accept pleading guilty to something I didn't know about.” Colorado: Parolees Hoping to Vote Face Attorney General, Secretary of State Opposition The ACLU and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition rallied this week for community support of SB 83, an election reform bill that would allow people on parole to vote. Both the Attorney General's office and the Secretary of State's office oppose parolee voting on grounds that it is unconstitutional. The Colorado constitution, however, states that persons confined in prison may not vote, but it leaves the voting rights of parolees at the discretion of the legislature, granting that body the power to define "term of imprisonment." The Colorado Supreme Court recently confirmed this by stating, "...parole is part of the incarcerated person's sentence when the General Assembly so provides." Previous legislatures saw fit to disenfranchise parolees by voting to define parole as part of the "term of imprisonment." Currently, people on probation and people in jail serving a misdemeanor sentence can vote. National: If They Can be Recruited for Military, They Should be Able to Vote An Associated Press article reported that the U.S. military is accepting more recruits with criminal and felony records. In response to the article, a “Concurring Opinions” writer asked on why the nation would allow formerly incarcerated individuals to represent the country in the armed forces but not at the ballot box. “If we trust felons (at least some of them) enough to let them carry guns and have access to our military in the middle of a war, I can't see an argument that there's any valid reason to prevent them from voting,” wrote Scott Moss.
United States

New Sentencing Project Report -- A Decade of Reform: Felony Disenfranchisement Policy in the U.S.

The Sentencing Project has released a new report revealing a new wave of reforms of state felony voting laws and growing momentum toward restoring voting rights.

Findings published in A Decade of Reform: Felony Disenfranchisement Policy in the United States disclose that since 1997, 16 states have implemented policy reforms that have reduced the restrictiveness of these laws, and more than 600,000 people in seven states have regained their voting rights.

The report also states:

  • U.S. disenfranchisement laws remain among the world’s most severe despite public opinion polls showing 80% support for restoring the vote to those who have completed their sentences.
  • During this year alone, 73 bills on felony disenfranchisement were introduced in 22 states and 85% of these initiatives sought to expand voting rights.
  • More than 5 million Americans still will be banned from voting this Election Day; three quarters of those banned — 3.9 million — are living in the community.
  • An estimated 1 in 12 African Americans is disenfranchised, a rate nearly five times the rate of non-African Americans.

Click here for the full report which also includes a breakdown of state-based policy reform and additional publications and resources on felony disenfranchisement.

The Sentencing Project

Zerline Hughes Jennings

[email protected]

United States

Web Scan: WOLA on Mexico Drug Wars, Sentencing Project and Others Report to UN Human Rights Committee, CURE on Prisons in OAS

"State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico," Laurie Freeman of WOLA on "Unintended Consequences of the War on Drugs"

Sentencing Project Statement to UN Human Rights Committee on Felony Disenfranchisement Violations of Article 25

Criminal Justice Section of Shadow Report on US compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, from Sentencing Project, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation Open Society Policy Center and Penal Reform International

Evaluation of Prisons in the Organization of American States, by the international branch of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants

Appeal/Book Offer: Race to Incarcerate, by Marc Mauer

In "Race to Incarcerate," Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, explores the political, financial, and human toll of the "get tough" movement against crime and assesses why this policy has failed, making a compelling argument against the unprecedented rise in the use of imprisonment in the United States over the last 25 years. Race to Incarcerate also brings to light the devastating reality of disenfranchisement -- for example, 13 percent of African American men are ineligible to vote because of criminal convictions -- in ten states more than one in five black men are barred from voting because of their criminal records.

One of the main driving forces behind the US incarceration binge has been the "war on drugs." Please support DRCNet's efforts to "stop the drug war" by making a generous donation -- visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ to do so online -- donate $30 or more and you will be eligible receive a copy of Race to Incarcerate as our thanks. (Click here to read our review of Race to Incarcerate published in Drug War Chronicle last month.)

We also continue to offer the DVD video Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and the 5th edition of Drug War Facts -- add $5 to the minimum donation to add either of these to your request, or $10 to add both. Again, visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ to make your donation and place your order, or send a check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. (Note that contributions to Drug Reform Coordination Network, which support our lobbying work, are not tax-deductible. Deductible contributions can be made to DRCNet Foundation, same address.) Lastly, please contact us for instructions if you wish to make a donation of stock.

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David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

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