Felony Disenfranchisement

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Disenfranchisement News: Governor's Swan Song Sounds Hopeful

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project] 

December 7, 2009

Disenfranchisement news


Governor's Swan Song to the Tune of Restoring Votes

During one of his last radio show broadcasts, outgoing Governor Tim Kaine talked about being one of two governors that have strongly advocated for the reenfranchisement of individuals with felony records. Kaine, who leaves office in January, encouraged residents to continue to apply for vote restoration.

When asked why Kaine would not sign an executive order restoring voting rights prior to stepping down, he said, "our analysis of Virginia law is that I can't just do a blanket restoration - I have to restore people by name."

Kaine and predecessor Mark R. Warner have restored the rights of more Virginians "than any of the previous governors of the commonwealth combined," according to WSLS 10.

"If your felony was a nonviolent felony, we restored every right of everybody who applies," Kaine said of the restoration process while in office. "If it's a violent felony, we dig into it a little more."


Chicken Stealers Disenfranchised -- Then and Now

The recent edition of the Journal of Southern History features an article by Pippa Holloway entitled, "A Chicken-Stealer Shall Lose His Vote - Disfranchisement from Larceny in the South," an essay on the policy all southern states (excluding Texas) adopted between 1874 and 1882 to disenfranchise individuals for petty theft. The changes were part of an effort to ban African Americans from voting and to restore the Democratic Party to political dominance in the region, according to Holloway, an associate history professor at Middle Tennessee University.

According to the journal abstract, the essay highlights the fact that "two southern states that had never disfranchised for any crimes amended their constitutions to establish this penalty for the first time in the 1870s. Finally, southern courts interpreted existing laws to include misdemeanors as disfranchising crimes. While Democrats celebrated the success of these laws in disfranchising African Americans, Republicans criticized their racial and partisan impact. Although Democrats used a variety of techniques to ensure their electoral dominance, these new laws were one tool used by Democrats to deny the vote to Republicans in some of the most tightly-contested elections of this period."


The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News 10/09/09

Wisconsin: Disenfranchising Legislation Afoot, as is Prosecution for Voting Nearly 200 Wisconsin citizens may have illegally voted in the November 2008 presidential election and could face prosecution, a state official said. Of the nearly 3 million votes cast in the election, 195 names matched those of individuals with felony convictions, the Chicago Tribune reported. The election audit comes as the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act is advancing in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The legislation, SB 240, would give residents the right to vote once they are released from prison or jail. The change would immediately re-enfranchise more than 41,000 felons on probation and parole. The Sentencing Project submitted testimony to the Wisconsin Legislature in support of the bill which would move Wisconsin in line with the neighboring states of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio which all have less restrictive disenfranchisement policies. Maine: NAACP Promotes Civic Activism in Prisons The NAACP in Maine has registered more than 200 inmates at five of the state's seven adult correctional centers in an effort to promote civic activism in one of only two states that allow individuals to vote while incarcerated, the Associated Press reported. "Having that access to the vote makes a difference. It makes me feel I'm continuing in the loop of the community and society. You feel like you count," said Maine inmate Randal Horr, who registered to vote with the help of NAACP volunteers. For additional coverage, read the Kennebec Journal Morning Sentinel and Colorlines. National: Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 is Necessary Legislation "People on parole are forced to get a job. It's part of your conditions. If you're paying taxes, you should be allowed to vote," said Kenneth Harrigan of The Fortune Society, an organization that works with the formerly incarcerated. An article published on The Grio highlights the importance of the Democracy Restoration Act legislation which would allow individuals with felony offenses to vote in all federal elections. The article states that the current laws have an overwhelming racial impact on elections. Florida: Cutbacks, Confusion Result in Possibility of Rescinded Voting Rights Two years after Gov. Charlie Crist removed vote restoration barriers for some, an audit has revealed 13 people had their rights restored despite being ineligible. The Clemency Board, made up of Crist and three Cabinet members, will review the cases in December. Some members are proposing the idea to not rescind voting rights for individuals that committed crimes decades ago unless there were aggravating circumstances. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News 9/21/09

National: The Sentencing Project Submits Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Discriminatory Effects of Felony Disenfranchisement A report submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by The Sentencing Project and partners 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. The report 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. Wisconsin: Historic Vote Gets State Closer to Restoration of Democracy The Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Courts passed the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act out of committee this week marking an historic era for the state. The legislation would lift a ban that prevents 42,000 people on probation and parole from voting. Prior to the vote, nearly 70 advocates and organizational representatives testified in support of the legislation at the committee hearing. The bill must now go to the floor for a vote and to the state Senate in early October. For more, visit OnMilwaukee.com. Virginia: Governor Makes Record, But Disenfranchised Still Waiting Despite the fact that Gov. Tim Kaine has restored the rights of 3,598 residents with felony pasts, more that 300,000 of Virginia's residents continue to be disenfranchised, according to the Roanoke Times. Gov. Kaine has restored rights to more individuals with felony convictions than any other Virginia governor since at least 1938, the Times reported, but there continues to be a lengthy, cumbersome process that takes at least six months of background checks and paperwork. "That means if everyone who is eligible were to apply, it would take more than 200 years to process all the applications," the Times reported, based on a study by the Advancement Project. New Jersey: Why the Right to Vote is Necessary Today Members of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey have led an effort to encourage voter participation by writing about their personal voting experiences on NJ.com. One member wrote about her need to vote because so many others are banned from doing so - including people with felony records. "We also should realize that the struggle for the vote isn't over. It goes on in other countries, of course, but it continues in ours too," wrote Anne Maiese of the organization. "From long-standing laws that take the vote from felons and ex-felons, sometimes for the rest of their lives, to efforts to impose difficult ID requirements, the powerful resist giving voting rights to those without it. Let's treasure this right, exercise it whenever possible, and try to make sure others have it too!" Florida: It's Time for Advocates to Stand Up It's time to give people a second chance, Jacksonville Times Union blogger, Stanley Scott stated. His blog post urges advocacy organizations to increase their efforts in order to help get individuals with felony records reenfranchised. "As this civic and human rights atrocity continues, leading religious human and civil rights leaders, and civil liberties organizations must aggressively encourage reconsideration of disenfranchisement policies." - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News 9/04/09

Wisconsin: Disenfranchisement Back on the Radar State legislators are once again considering a bill that would restore voting rights to 40,000 residents with felony convictions on their record, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. According to state elections board director Kevin Kennedy, the bill would also save about $13,000 by eliminating the need to produce lists for poll workers to check. State Representative Joe Parisi, who supports the bill, recently chaired an Assembly Committee on Corrections and the Courts and stated,"We heard convincing testimony that not only are African-Americans incarcerated and charged with felonies at an unacceptably high rate compared to other Wisconsinites, but also that this institutionalized bias robs the African-American community of a voice in our democratic process. The Capital Times applauded his stance, giving him "high, high marks" in an editorial. Parisi further stated: "When you consider the racial disparities built into our criminal justice system, the original implementation of this law smacks of Jim Crow laws which were put into place to deny African-Americans the right to vote." African Americans make up 7 percent of the state's population, but account for 50 percent of the state's prison population. Click here to read a Los Angeles Times blog posting on the issue. Read a thread of comments published on the Daily Kenoshan online news forum. Mississippi: Disenfranchisement Must Be Addressed Before Next Election The Clarion-Ledger published an editorial addressing Mississippi's complicated disenfranchisement policies. Under current provisions, persons convicted of 21 specified offenses permanently lose the right to vote. But for other felonies, including drug offenses, voting rights are not forfeited, including for those in prison. Currently, fewer than 7,000 of the 25,000 people in the state's prisons are ineligible to vote. The editorial board believes that state policy is flawed in two directions, and urges that all felonies should result in the loss of voting rights while serving a sentence, but that voting rights should be restored for all upon sentence completion. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org .

The Sentencing Project -- Disenfranchisement News: Media Spotlight on the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009

National: Media Spotlight on the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 A Project Vote blog posting notes the media attention and editorial support for the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009. Highlighting passages from national media outlets including The New York Times, the Patriot News in Pennsylvania, and the Detroit Free Press, the blog stated, "whether the message will affect the change needed to enfranchise the millions of Americans who currently cannot represent their communities in the democratic process, it is encouraging to find more citizens recognize the value in voting rights restoration and its impact on rehabilitation." Responding to a New York Times editorial calling felon disenfranchisement "bad prison policy," Adam Fogel, Right to Vote Director of FairVote, stated in a letter to the editor that the "lack of uniformity in election administration cannot help but lead to fundamental inequalities in our democracy." The Times' editorial noted that California, New York and, most recently, Massachusetts have upheld voting rights bans for individuals with felony convictions. Fogel further suggested that Congress set national standards for all elections. The Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 would grant individuals with felony convictions voting rights in federal elections only. Massachusetts: Court Denies Voting Rights Act Challenge to Felony Disenfranchisement In Simmons v. Galvin, a First Circuit panel ruled the persons currently incarcerated in Massachusetts' prisons cannot challenge the loss of their voting rights under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Ex Post Facto clause. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act states, "no voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State ... in a manner which results in a denial or abridgment of the right ... to vote on account of race or color." According to Ballot Access, plaintiffs wanted to present evidence that Massachusetts' felon disenfranchisement law has a disproportionally adverse effect on African Americans and Hispanic Americans, who are overrepresented in the prison population. The two-judge majority rejected the arguments and determined that Congress never intended for Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to be used for this purpose. The dissenting judge, Juan Torruella, said the section's language is clear and unambiguous, and therefore speculation about what Congress intended is irrelevant. Advocates say his dissent was similar to Judge Sonia Sotomayor's opinion in Hayden v. Pataki. Some believe that the case might end up before the Supreme Court, presenting Justice Sotomayor another opportunity to consider an issue with which she is familiar. Click here to read the decision. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org.

Disenfranchisement News: Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 Introduced

National: Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 Introduced The Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 was introduced last week, a 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 those 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. Rhode Island: Rhode Island Study Shows Probation/Parolee Electoral Participation A new analysis released by the Family Life Center of Rhode Island demonstrates a high level of interest in the electoral process by persons on probation or parole. Following a 2006 ballot change in the 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. The Family Life Center has since initiated a broad outreach campaign to inform the community of the reform and to register people with felony convictions. In addition, the Department of Corrections now acts as a voter registration agency and offers all inmates the opportunity to register following their discharge. The results of the outreach campaign in Rhode Island demonstrate that substantial numbers of people who have come through the criminal justice system have an interest in becoming involved in the electoral process. Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, spoke on the Family Life Center's efforts at the organization's annual meeting. "What the Family Life Center has done is an inspiration to all of us on the national stage," Mauer was quoted a saying in the Providence Journal. "We haven't had the numbers before to make the case," he said. "It sends a message. This is a real accomplishment; something we can all learn from." The Family Life Center this week has changed its name to OPENDOORS, but will still continue its mission to aid formerly incarcerated people in their transition to the community. Washington State: "Modern-day Poll Tax" No Longer Keeps Residents from the Poll The state of Washington recently eliminated the ban on voting for individuals with felony convictions who had not paid all financial obligations associated with their sentence. The ACLU of Washington will now launch "Promote the Vote" in Seattle and Tacoma to celebrate the new law and educate newly enfranchised Washingtonians about their rights. Pennsylvania: ACLU Wins Lawsuit Over Bus Ads The ACLU of Pennsylvania is "thrilled" that a federal judge ruled in its favor in a lawsuit that claimed the removal of voting rights ads created for public buses was discriminatory, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The ACLU said the Port Authority unlawfully refused to accept its advertisements designed to inform the public that residents with felony convictions have the right to vote. "The testimony and evidence presented at trial clearly demonstrated that the defendants accepted numerous advertisements for display on Port Authority vehicles which had content similar to plaintiffs' proposed advertisement and which were not truly commercial in nature," Judge Terrence McVerry wrote. An op-ed column published in the Patriot-News supported a bill that would require prisons to provide voter registration forms to inmates prior to release. Kathryn Boockvar, senior attorney with the Advancement Project, stated that the bill instills "knowledge about and encouragement of voting." community and become productive members of society. "I also believe that assisting the formerly incarcerated with voting is the right thing to do from an ethical perspective," she wrote. "This is a nation that believes in redemption. If you commit a crime, pay your penance, and do your time, ours is a society that generally says: your past wrongs will be forgiven. This bill builds on this notion, by giving individuals some tools and incentives to take a path of rehabilitation, rather than the path of recidivism." The Pennsylvania House State Government Committee passed HB 1072 out of committee by a 20-3 vote, clearing the way for the bill to go to the House floor for a vote. Wisconsin: Proposed Legislation Gains Conservative Support Well-known Wisconsin conservative, James Wigderson, has publicly taken a stance in support of vote restoration in an editorial published in the Waukesha Freeman. Noting that disenfranchisement affects about 42,000 state residents - Black and white - Wigderson suggests that restoring rights upon leaving prison benefits the state budget, and the individuals hoping to reintegrate into society. "By releasing them from prison our society is already making the statement that these felons should be re-integrated into society, and that there is some social good in doing so," he writes. "That re-integration process should include voting. Again, according to the ACLU, felons who vote are half as likely to re-offend as felons who do not vote. We may argue which is the cause and which is the effect, but the relationship is there, and it's not hard to understand why." Florida: ACLU Workshop Helps Residents Restore Civil Rights The Florida ACLU hosted a civil rights restoration workshop in an effort to reintegrate residents with felony offenses back into their communities. Since Governor Charlie Crist streamlined the process for individuals to regain their civil rights, more than 145,000 people are now able to vote, WESH2 reported. One workshop attendee, Sean Johnson, left the gathering with his civil rights restored. "The process is very tedious," he said. "I have applied, but until today, I haven't had any luck." There remain, however, 60,000 applications that are still pending due to Florida Parole Commission budget cuts that have reduced its staff from 13 to five, the Orlando Sentinel reported. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

Disenfranchisement News: Your Support is Needed for the Democracy Restoration Act Today!

TAKE ACTION: Add Your Organization to a Sign-on Letter in Support of the Democracy Restoration Act Dear Friends: The Sentencing Project is engaged with Senator Russ Feingold and Representative John Conyers on legislation to restore federal voting rights to individuals with felony convictions who are not incarcerated. The Democracy Restoration Act will be introduced in the coming weeks and we hope to have strong support from members of Congress. We are writing to ask for your organization's support in this effort. Please review this sign-on letter (http://sentencingproject.org/userfiles/file/fd_DRASignOnLetter.pdf) and consider adding your organization to the chorus of advocates seeking a more inclusive democracy. The deadline to include your organization on the letter to Congress is July 1. Please email [email protected] to join. National: Department of Justice Makes Available State-specific Tools on Rights Restoration The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has posted on its Web site a comprehensive guide for individuals across the country to learn how to regain their voting rights, if eligible. The guide provides links for each state that point directly to the state's disenfranchisement laws and restoration procedures. Alabama: Inmates Prepare for Municipal Election Rev. Kenneth Glasgow and The Ordinary People's Society are registering voters in city and county jails to vote in the upcoming municipal election, the Dothan Eagle reported. Persons in prison or jail in Alabama may vote if not convicted of crimes of moral turpitude. In 2006, 90 inmates in city and county jails statewide voted. In 2007, 300 voted, and in 2008, 2,500 inmates voted, including individuals in state prison, the article states. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org.

Disenfranchisement News: Sotomayor on Disenfranchisement

National: Sotomayor on Disenfranchisement Based on many decisions by U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, a New York Times op-ed column states that the judge's decisions have ultimately been "color blind." Making mention of her ruling in Hayden v. Pataki, where Sotomayor concluded that felon disenfranchisement laws are discriminatory and violate the Voting Rights Act, Tom Goldstein, a founder of the Scotusblog Web site, states that her decisions in cases like these "hardly make her an extremist." The United State's varied practice of disenfranchising individuals with felony offenses is the wrong way to dole out punishment, according to an Atlantic blog. "Crime costs this country an estimated $1.4 trillion annually," the article states. "Unless disenfranchisement helps reduce that number - and the evidence suggests that it does the opposite - then denying prisoners the vote in order to minutely heighten the virtue of the voting pool is a bad trade." - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News 5/29/09

National: U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Sotomayor May Spark Voting Rights Debate With President Obama's U.S. Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, various news outlets have 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. An op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times asserts that if the Supreme Court strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, it might actually open up a new dialogue on voting rights. Law professors Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Luis Fuentes-Rohwerargue that "[i]f the high court now votes to invalidate the Voting Rights Act, Congress and the civil rights community would have an opportunity to engage in a much-needed debate on voting rights policy for a new century." They contend that revamping the Voting Rights Act could, in fact, make room for disenfranchisement reforms such as the Democracy Restoration Act, which would lift the ban nationally for non-incarcerated people to vote in federal elections. Iowa: Voter Fraud or Miscommunication? David Borgman was sentenced to four days of home confinement and a $500 fine for fourth-degree election misconduct - registering and voting during the November election while on parole, the Quad-City Times reported. November's election was the first in the state that allowed individuals to register on Election Day. Borgman, 42, said he didn't know he wasn't eligible to vote but the Iowa Department of Corrections stated that individuals released on parole are required to sign a statement that they understand certain rights have been taken away. The statement, however, does not specifically mention the right to vote. As a result of the case, the Iowa Department of Corrections now requires individuals released on parole to sign a statement which says they understand they are not eligible to vote until they have their rights restored by the governor. Ohio: Department of Corrections Helps Offenders "Reclaim Their Vote" A new brochure that explains voting rights for those with felony records is now being disseminated throughout the state by government officials, agencies and nonprofit organizations in an effort to better communicate the voter restoration process. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is distributing "Find a New Direction: Reclaim Your Vote," to wardens and adult parole offices. The Voting Rights Institute of the Ohio Secretary of State's office is also distributing the brochures to non-profits groups, and at events throughout the state. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- E-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org.

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News 5/14/09

Washington State: Voting Equals Productive, Law-abiding Citizens Samuel Merrill, the legislative chair for the Friends Committee on Washington Public Policy, published an op-ed column in the News Tribune applauding Gov. Chris Gregoire's recent move to eliminate what was referred to as a "poll tax" for voters with felony offenses. Applauding the legislators who backed the bill, he stated "the right to vote is an essential step in encouraging those returning from prison to feel that they, too, have a stake in our society and a chance to become productive, stable and law-abiding citizens." The law takes affect July 26. Pennsylvania: Inmates to Receive Notification of Voting Rights, Materials A state House committee passed a bill that would require Pennsylvania prisons to provide soon-to-be released inmates with voter-registration materials. "Doing so would benefit the inmates and society," stated a Daily Review editorial. "State lawmakers should pass the bill and Gov. Ed Rendell should sign it as a means to help those who have broken the law to embrace better citizenship, and to help their communities in the process." - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

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