Felony Disenfranchisement

RSS Feed for this category

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 11/14/08

Kentucky: Formerly Disenfranchised Voters Chronicle their Election Day Experience Kentuckians for the Commonwealth currently features on its Web site a host of stories of first-time voters who participated in Election Day after having been disenfranchised. Chronicling his experience, Carl Matthews wrote: "Yes, for the first time in my entire life I felt empowered. I voted to make better lives for myself and others. I have never voted anywhere in these United States. Today was my day. And what a great start to a new life!" Tayna Fogle, who voted for the first time after the state revoked her voting rights in 2004, joined her 26-year-old son who registered this year. "I was the 11th person in line at 6am," she stated. " ... All the way up until I saw my name on the list, I was afraid that they'd turn me away for some reason, and I can't explain why. My heart was beating fast and I got a little teary-eyed." International: Government is Warned that Inmate Voting Must Be Allowed The British government must take action in reforming legislation which will allow the country's 84,000 incarcerated individuals to vote in the next election, the Guardian reported. Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights warned the government that the next election will pose a "constitutional crisis" that needs to be addressed immediately. The challenge comes in response to a 2005 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that a blanket denial of voting rights to people in prison is unlawful. The Ministry of Justice stated that: "A legislative solution can and should be introduced during the next parliamentary session. If the government fails to meet this timetable, there is a significant risk that the next general election will take place in a way that fails to comply with the convention and at least part of the prison population will be unlawfully disenfranchised. Commenting on the legislation delay, the Prison Reform Trust, which campaigns on behalf of prisoners, stated, 'This mean-minded, foot-dragging approach... calls into question the government's commitment to social inclusion, citizenship and human rights." Florida: Voting for the First time in at Least 30 Years Before this month, Florida resident Joe Walker last voted 30 years ago. He was sent to prison for two years in 1979 and lost his voting rights, the Fernandina Beach News Leader reported. Now 71, Walker was able to participate in the election this year due to Florida's recent change allowing citizens with non-violent offenses to vote. National: Familial Disenfranchisement Voter disenfranchisement was featured in an article entitled the "Barriers of Democracy," highlighted on the Evangelicals for Social Action Web site. The article stated that many formerly incarcerated citizens are raising families and working and deserve a chance to cast their vote. "Like most parents, they want to be able to vote to improve schools, infrastructure, and government. The myriad and complex disenfranchisement laws make this impossible for many. Imagine what generational effect this has on a convict's children when they see their father or mother excluded from voting." - - - - - - 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

Feature: Looking Forward -- The Prospects for Drug Reform in Obama's Washington

The political landscape in Washington, DC, is undergoing a dramatic shift as the Democratic tide rolls in, and, after eight years of drug war status quo under the Republicans, drug reformers are now hoping the change in administrations will lead to positive changes in federal drug policies. As with every other aspect of federal policy, groups interested in criminal justice and drug policy reform are coming out of the woodwork with their own recommendations for Obama and the Democratic Congress. This week, we will look at some of those proposals and attempt to assess the prospects for real change.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/whitehouse.gif
The White House
One of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform proposals, of which drug-related reform is only a small part, comes from a nonpartisan consortium of organizations and individuals coordinated by the Constitution Project, including groups such as the Sentencing Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), and the Open Society Policy Center. The set of proposals, Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress, includes the following recommendations:

  • Mandatory Minimum Reforms:
    Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity
    Improve and expand the federal "safety valve"
    Create a sunset provision on existing and new mandatory minimums
    Clarify that the 924(c) recidivism provisions apply only to true repeat offenders
  • Alternatives to Incarceration:
    Expand alternatives to incarceration in federal sentencing guidelines
    Enact a deferred adjudication statute
    Support alternatives to incarceration through expansion of federal drug and other problem solving courts.
  • Incentives and Sentencing Management
    Expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)
    Clarify good time credit
    Expand the amount of good time conduct credit prisoners may receive and ways they can receive it
    Enhance sentence reductions for extraordinary and compelling circumstances
    Expand elderly prisoners release program
    Revive executive clemency
  • Promoting Fairness and Addressing Disparity:
    Support racial impact statements as a means of reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities
    Support analysis of racial and ethnic disparity in the federal justice system
    Add a federal public defender as an ex officio member of the United States Sentencing Commission

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also issued a set of recommendations, Actions for Restoring America: How to Begin Repairing the Damage to Freedom in America Under Bush, which include some drug reform provisions:

  • Crack/Powder Sentencing: The attorney general should revise the US Attorneys' Manual to require that crack offenses are charged as "cocaine" and not "cocaine base," effectively resulting in elimination of the disparity.
  • Medical Marijuana: Halt the use of Justice Department funds to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users in states with current laws permitting access to physician-supervised medical marijuana. In particular, the US Attorney general should update the US Attorneys' Manual to de-prioritize the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana users in medical marijuana states. There is currently no regulation in place to be amended or repealed; there is, of course, a federal statutory scheme that prohibits marijuana use unless pursuant to approved research. But US Attorneys have broad charging discretion in determining what types of cases to prosecute, and with drugs, what threshold amounts that will trigger prosecution. The US Attorneys' Manual contains guidelines promulgated by the Attorney general and followed by US Attorneys and their assistants.
  • The DEA Administrator should grant Lyle Craker's application for a Schedule I license to produce research-grade medical marijuana for use in DEA- and FDA-approved studies. This would only require DEA to approve the current recommendation of its own Administrative Law Judge.
  • All relevant agencies should stop denying the existence of medical uses of marijuana -- as nearly one-third of states have done by enacting laws -- and therefore, under existing legal criteria, reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule V.
  • Issue an executive order stating that, "No veteran shall be denied care solely on the basis of using marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with state law." Although there are many known instances of veterans being denied care as a result of medical marijuana use, we have not been able to identify a specific regulation that mandates or authorizes this policy.
  • Federal Racial Profiling: Issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling by federal officers and banning law enforcement practices that disproportionately target people for investigation and enforcement based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex or religion. Include in the order a mandate that federal agencies collect data on hit rates for stops and searches, and that such data be disaggregated by group. DOJ should issue guidelines regarding the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies. The new guidelines should clarify that federal law enforcement officials may not use race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or sex to any degree, except that officers may rely on these factors in a specific suspect description as they would any noticeable characteristic of a subject.

Looking to the south, the Latin America Working Group, a coalition of nonprofit groups, has issued a petition urging Obama "to build a just policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean that unites us with our neighbors." Included in its proposals are:

  • Actively work for peace in Colombia. In a war that threatens to go on indefinitely, the immense suffering of the civilian population demands that the United States takes risks to achieve peace. If the United States is to actively support peace, it must stop endlessly bankrolling war and help bring an end to the hemisphere's worst humanitarian crisis.
  • Get serious -- and smart -- about drug policy. Our current drug policy isn't only expensive and ineffective, it's also inhumane. Instead of continuing a failed approach that brings soldiers into Latin America's streets and fields, we must invest in alternative development projects in the Andes and drug treatment and prevention here at home.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has some suggestions as well. As NORML's Paul Armentano wrote last week on Alternet:

  • President Obama must uphold his campaign promise to cease the federal arrest and prosecution of (state) law-abiding medical cannabis patients and dispensaries by appointing leaders at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Department of Justice, and the US Attorney General's office who will respect the will of the voters in the thirteen states that have legalized the physician-supervised use of medicinal marijuana.
  • President Obama should use the power of the bully pulpit to reframe the drug policy debate from one of criminal policy to one of public health. Obama can stimulate this change by appointing directors to the Office of National Drug Control Policy who possess professional backgrounds in public health, addiction, and treatment rather than in law enforcement.
  • President Obama should follow up on statements he made earlier in his career in favor of marijuana decriminalization by establishing a bi-partisan presidential commission to review the budgetary, social, and health costs associated with federal marijuana prohibition, and to make progressive recommendations for future policy changes.

Clearly, the drug reform community and its allies see the change of administrations as an opportunity to advance the cause. The question is how receptive will the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress be to drug reform efforts.

"We've examined Obama's record and his statements, and 90% of it is good," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "But we don't know what he intends to do in office. There is an enormous amount of good he can do," Borden said, mentioning opening up funding for needle exchange programs, US Attorney appointments, and stopping DEA raids on medical marijuana providers. "Will Obama make some attempt to actualize the progressive drug reform positions he has taken? He has a lot on his plate, and drug policy reform has tended to be the first thing dropped by left-leaning politicians."

There will be some early indicators of administration interest in drug reform, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We will be watching to see if he issues an executive order stopping the DEA raids; that would be a huge sign," he said. "He could also repeal the needle exchange funding ban. The congressional ban would still be in place, but that would show some great leadership. If they started taking on drug policy issues in the first 100 days, that would be a great sign, but I don't think people should expect that. There are many other issues, and it's going to take awhile just to clean up Bush's mess. I'm optimistic, but I don't expect big changes to come quickly."

"We are hoping to see a new direction," said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for civil and criminal justice reform for the Open Society Policy Center. "We couldn't have a better scenario with the incoming vice president having sponsored the one-to-one crack/powder bill in the Senate and the incoming president being a sponsor. And we have a situation in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, where there is bipartisan interest in sentencing reform. Both sides of the aisle want some sort of movement on this, it's been studied and vetted, and now Congress needs to do the right thing. It's time to get smart on crime, and this is not a radical agenda. As far as I'm concerned, fixing the crack/powder disparity is the compromise, and elimination of mandatory minimums is what really needs to be on the agenda."

"With the Smart on Crime proposals, we tried to focus on what was feasible," said the Sentencing Project's Kara Gotsch. "These are items where we think we are likely to get support, where the community has demonstrated support, or where there has been legislation proposed to deal with these issues. It prioritizes the issues we think are most likely to move, and crack sentencing reform is on that list."

The marijuana reform groups are more narrowly focused, of course, but they, too are looking for positive change. "Obama has made it very clear on the campaign trail that he disagrees with the use of federal agencies to undo medical marijuana laws in states that have passed them," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "He has vowed to stop that. Obama seems to be someone who values facts and reasoned decision-making. If he applies that to marijuana policy, that could be a good thing".

While the list of possible drug reforms is long and varied, it is also notable for what has not been included. Only NORML even mentions marijuana decriminalization, and no one is talking about ending the drug war -- only making it a bit kinder and gentler. The L-word remains unutterable.

"While we're optimistic about reducing the harms of prohibition, legalization is not something that I think they will take on," said Piper. "But any movement toward drug reform is good. If we can begin to shift to a more health-oriented approach, that will change how Americans think about this issue and create a space where regulation can be discussed in a a rational manner. Now, because of our moralist criminal justice framework, it is difficult to have a sane discussion about legalization."

"We didn't talk that much about legalization," said Gotsch in reference to the Smart on Crime proposals. "A lot of organizations involved have more ambitious goals, but that wouldn't get the kind of reaction we want. There just isn't the political support yet for legalization, even of marijuana."

"We should be talking about legalization, yes," said StoptheDrugWar.org's Borden, "but should we be talking about it in communications to the new president who has shown no sign of supporting it? Not necessarily. We must push the envelope, but if we push it too far in lobbying communications to national leadership, we risk losing their attention."

"I do think it would be a mistake to blend that kind of caution into ideological caution over what we are willing to talk about at all," Borden continued. "I think we should be talking about legalization, it's just a question of when and where," he argued.

Talking legalization is premature, said Eric Sterling, formerly counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee and now president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "What we are not yet doing as a movement is building upon our successes," he said. "We just saw medical marijuana win overwhelmingly in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts, but the nation's commentariat has not picked up on it, and our movement has not been sufficiently aggressive in getting those votes translated into the political discourse. We haven't broken out of the making fun phase of marijuana policy yet."

Sterling pointed in particular to the medical marijuana issue. "Everyone recognizes that the state-federal conflict on medical marijuana is a major impediment, and we have 26 senators representing medical marijuana states, but not a single senator has introduced a medical marijuana bill," he said. "It's an obvious area for legislative activity in the Senate, but it hasn't happened. This suggests that we as a movement still lack the political muscle even on something as uncontroversial as the medical use of marijuana."

Even the apparent obvious targets for reform, such as the crack/powder sentencing disparity, are going to require a lot of work, said Sterling. "It will continue to be a struggle," he said. "The best crack bill was Biden's, cosponsored by Obama and Clinton, but I'm not sure who is going to pick that up this year. The sentencing reform community continues to struggle to frame the issue as effective law enforcement, and I think it's only on those terms that we can win."

Reformers also face the reality that the politics of crime continues to be a sensitive issue for the majority Democrats, Sterling said. "Crime is an issue members are frightened about, and it's an area where Republicans traditionally feel they have the upper ground. The Democrats are going to be reluctant to open themselves up to attack in areas where there is not a strong political upside. On many issues, Congress acts when there is a clear universe of allies who will benefit and who are pushing for action. I don't know if we are there yet."

Change is the mantra of the Obama administration, and change is what the drug reform community is hoping for. Now, the community must act to ensure that change happens, and that the right changes happen.

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 11/10/08

First Time Voters As a result of recent legislation and policy changes, many citizens in Rhode Island, Maryland and Florida voted in their very first presidential election on November 4. Others voted in their first election since having been incarcerated. Activists, advocates and those formerly disenfranchised like Kimberly Haven and Andres Idarraga cast their long-awaited first vote in an historic presidential election. Mike Kimber was second in line at his New York polling place. "It felt different. You know, I was doing something for the very first time ... I was happy I was able to do this," said Kimber during an interview with Democracy Now. In Minnesota, an estimated 65,000 citizens are ineligible to vote due to felony offenses but resident Andre Corbett made it to the polls last week. "I got off parole Aug. 1, and I went and voted in the primaries," Minnesota Public Radio quoted him as saying. "That was probably the proudest I'd felt in quite a while - just being able to have the sticker and go in and check it off." Having just learned that he could vote and that his rights were restored two years ago, Victor Vazquez registered and voted on the same day in Rhode Island the Providence Journal reported. " ... [T]his means I have a say now. And here I am today, doing my work," said Vazquez. For more coverage, read the Huffington Post and Monsters and Critics.com. Florida: Associated Press New York: Staten Island Advance Arizona: Tucson Citizen Indiana: Journal Gazette Rhode Island: NBC10 National: 'Mass Confusion,' Lawsuits Shadow Election Day 2009 The arrival of last Tuesday's historic Election Day followed a national drive to register and educate voters with felony offenses. Despite advocates' successes in voter education, there was much uncertainty over state laws, inmate voting policies and several legal challenges seeking to overturn state laws were filed, USA Today reported. "It's mass confusion," stated Nancy Abudu, staff counsel for the voting rights unit of the American Civil Liberties Union. Miller-McCune Magazine also featured an article on disenfranchisement's past and present, and the movement to get voting rights restored nationally. "Felon disfranchisement affects not only the individual whose vote has been taken away; it's not just what voting-rights lawyers call a vote-denial claim. It's also a vote-dilution claim," said Juan Cartagena, a civil rights lawyer and the general counsel for the Community Service Society in New York. "That relative political power is taken away from the neighbors of persons who come back home (and) from their family members. Their relative collective voting strength is wiped off the map almost." Georgia: To Vote, or Not to Vote Editor in chief of the Sunday Paper applauded rapper T.I. and other celebrities with felony convictions who rallied others to vote in last week's election, but in an op- ed, Kevin Forest Moreau also grapples with the issue of restoring voting rights to those with certain convictions. "Should those perpetrators be given the chance to redeem their place in civilization?" he wrote. "Absolutely - depending on the severity of the crime ... But should they retain every right-or privilege-they enjoyed prior to breaking that social contract? That one's a little harder to say "yes" to." Oklahoma: Legislator Supports Vote Restoration Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre, of Tulsa, hopes to introduce legislation to restore voting rights once a citizen is released from prison in 2009, the Tulsa World reported. Sen. McIntyre said she will speed up the time it takes to restore voting rights. Currently, state law prohibits individuals from registering to vote until the full length of their sentence has been carried out and are no longer supervised by the Department of Corrections. California: Report Says Felony Disenfranchisement 'Single Greatest Factor Excluding People of Color' The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) has released a report entitled, Making Every Vote Count: Reforming Felony Disenfranchisement Policies and Practices in California, that explains why and how felony disenfranchisement laws may be the single greatest factor excluding people of color from the political process. A key component of the report is its documentation of widespread confusion among eligible voters and public agencies about who is and is not eligible to vote in California. - - - - - - 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/Updates 10/31/08

As the nation prepares to head to the polls next week for an historic Election Day, let us not forget the 5.3 million U.S. citizens who are denied the right to vote due to a felony conviction. The Sentencing Project continues to work for felony disenfranchisement reform and we thank you for your support. Inmate Voting The Sheriff's Department recently earned kudos for facilitating inmate voting in the Ventura County Jail system in California. Policy allows inmates awaiting trial to request voter registration forms and absentee ballots and jail staff hand-carry ballots to and from the elections office, the Ventura County Star reported. "We do a lot of footwork for them," said Susan Llewellyn, Ventura County Jail inmate services program manager. The Ohio Justice & Policy Center asked the U.S. District Court in Cleveland to restore the canceled voter registrations of some residents of a juvenile detention center in Ohio after a voter complained that they were not eligible to vote, the Associated Press reported. About 2400 Washington, D.C. jail inmates have received registration forms since March and approximately 100 have requested absentee ballots for the upcoming election, the Washington Post reported. In Washington, jail inmates and those who have been released from prison are eligible to vote. "We try to educate the inmate of their right to vote," said Devon Brown, director of the D.C. Department of Corrections. "Many of them don't know they can vote." Wisconsin: Journal Times Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Daily News Alabama: Restore Voting Rights The Montgomery Advertiser published a letter to the editor commenting on the state Constitution's antiquated and confusing "crimes of moral turpitude" clause which disenfranchises many citizens from the voting process. The letter states that reform is a must. "This is not to give an excuse to those guilty, but to restore integrity to a system that has gone unchecked since 1901," it stated. On the other end of the spectrum, another Montgomery Advertiser reader agrees with disenfranchisement. Read letter. Mississippi: Favorable Ruling Not Expected to Come in Time for Election It is likely that nearly 150,000 citizens will not vote next week because of Mississippi's disenfranchisement law, ACLU lawyer Nancy Abudu stated after U.S. District Judge Tom Lee refused last month to issue a preliminary injunction that would have forced Mississippi officials to allow felons to vote for president. The lawsuit, however, was not completely dismissed. "These folks probably won't be allowed to vote in November unless the district court issues a favorable ruling in the next week - highly unlikely," said Abudu who works with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. The organization claims in a federal lawsuit filed last month that there's an exception in the Mississippi constitution that allows people with felony convictions to vote in the presidential elections, the Fort Mill Times reported. Georgia: Award-winning Rapper Propels Youth to Get Politically Involved After he Casts Vote Prior to Serving Sentence Twenty-eight year-old rap artist, Cliff Harris, who goes by the initials "T.I." became a first-time voter this week and inspired other youth to vote, the Associated Press reported. Harris, who awaits sentencing for a felony offense, thought he was unable to cast a vote in the election until he was told otherwise. "It was a relief," he said. Nathirya Brown, also a first-time voter, saw the rapper cast his early vote and said, "It's inspirational what he is doing." "Just him being diligent enough helps others find out their status as well." Maine: Incarcerated Voters Proud to Use their Voice Maine is one of only two states which allow its incarcerated citizens to vote - and many inmates make use of that right, according to an article posted on KeepMeCurrent.com. Francine Bowden, who runs the Maine Correctional Center Library said voting while incarcerated, prepares individuals to be in the habit of taking part in one duty of citizenship. "They've at least had this, because they will be going back to society," she said. National: Re-enfranchisement is Bipartisan; Debate Continues Since 2000, various states have reformed disenfranchisement laws, enabling citizens with felony convictions to vote - many of those states led by Republican governors, including Alabama, Nebraska, Nevada and Florida, according to the Los Angeles Times. "This is the first time in history that some of these places have ever seen this kind of civic activity," said the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, director of The Ordinary People's Society. The Times followed up the article with an editorial, "Let Felons Vote," in support of reform. Appearing on a YouTube video by Jeremy Young of Al Jazeera, Kemba Smith debated with Roger Clegg on the disadvantages of banning voters from the ballot box. Smith, who had her sentence commuted by President Bill Clinton in 2000 for a first-time drug offense said, "I should be able to vote because I am a competent citizen of this country. Yes I did make a poor choice years ago. I'm a contributing member of society. I am involved in the political process. It's disturbing that when Election Day comes, I'm going to be watching every one else go into the polls. Disenfranchisement also appeared in the Washington Post's "Post Politics Hour" this week. Florida: Voter Disenfranchisement is "Complicated, Convoluted, Costly and Cumbersome" "I can't vote, but I can pray. So that's what I'll do," said Florida resident Michelle Latimore, who will not be able to vote for her candidate. Latimore is one of an estimated 300,000 to more than 900,000 citizens who have yet to gain back their voting rights despite a rule change enacted by Governor Charlie Crist last year, according to the Associated Press "We have a very complicated, convoluted and costly system," stated ACLU Florida Lawyer Muslima Lewis. "The entire process is very cumbersome." Ohio: Newspaper's Error Further Disenfranchises Residents Needing to retract information from a previously published article that mistakenly reported that citizens with felony convictions could not vote in the state, the Cleveland Plain Dealer re-published an article online to explain the voting rights of those formerly incarcerated. The article also featured the Secretary of State's brochure entitled, "Find a New Direction: Reclaim Your Right To Vote" Virginia: In Battleground State, Advocates Push for Restoration In response to a News Leader letter opposing voting rights for individuals with felony convictions, a voting rights counselor for the Central United Methodist Church in Staunton stated her views. "Many clients committed their crimes 10, 20 or 30 years ago and were frustrated by their inability to vote or explain 'why' to friends or family," she wrote. "Most want to move past their youthful mistakes ... When people turn their lives around and are ready to participate positively in society, the right to vote should be theirs." In September, Reed successfully petitioned the Fairfax County Circuit Court to have his voting rights restored, but Gov. Tim Kaine has not sent him a letter confirming his restoration yet, so he was unable to register in time for next week's election. England's New Statesman published an article that focused on the battleground status of Virginia focused, in part, on voter disenfranchisement that keeps citizens from the polls as a result of felony convictions. "I had never voted before. As I was in prison I realised [sic] I had lost being a citizen, being a contributing member of society, being able to elect officials. I realised [sic] I had lost a great deal. I decided if I was ever released I would do whatever I could to regain my right to vote. I became a model prisoner, went to school, got a college education." For additional coverage, see the Loudoun Times. North Carolina: First-Time Voter Like "Kid with a New Toy" Sixty-seven-year-old Lymon Sykes voted for the first time this week. He was one of 70 individuals with a felony offense who voted early with the help of the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice and the Winston-Salem Black Political Action Committee. "I was so excited I was like a little kid with a new toy," he told the Winston-Salem Journal. "The lady there had to help me. I don't have a whole lot of education, but I can read. They told me how to push the first button for president. I had to keep asking." State law allows individuals who have completed their sentence, parole or probation and who have paid restitution. - - - - - - 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/Updates 10/24/08

Maine & Vermont: Voting Interest Up in Prison Facilities Officials in Maine and Vermont have stated that inmates' interest in voting is up this election year. The states are the only ones in the nation that allow individuals to vote while serving time for a conviction. "Vermont has taken the position the more we can get folks in prison involved in the community in a responsible way, the better their chances of reintroducing them to the civilian world in a responsible way," Secretary of State Deb Markowitz was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. "The rationale for disfranchisement has never been particularly compelling or clear," said Alexander Keyssar, a Harvard University historian and author of "The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States." The AP reported that in the 1790s, the Vermont Legislature attempted to ban inmate voting. The move was overruled in 1799 by the Council of Censors, a now-defunct fourth branch of government that met every seven years to decide constitutional questions. Illinois: Some State Employees Well Versed on Voting Rights Laws, Some Not Terry Klingman, an Illinois resident who served nine months in prison, attempted to register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles. He was first denied by an employee who was not informed about state election law. Only after a supervising employee stepped in was Klingman able to register. According to the Kane County Chronicle , a Secretary of State spokesman said employees aren't necessarily versed in election law. At the Illinois Department of Corrections, however, employees inform inmates before they are released on parole that they are free to register to vote. "We want them to be prepared," said spokesman Derek Schnapp. "Hopefully they'll be a regular citizen in our society. But it's up to them whether or not they take the initiative to go register." Kansas: Voter Registration Ends on Positive Note Voter registration efforts on one Wichita corner have registered 2000 people; of those it was estimated that about 25% were citizens with felony convictions, KSN3 reported. According to Kansas law, residents can vote if they've completed their sentence and probation or parole. "They didn't realize that because they had a felony, it could be years ago, and it's been off paper, they haven't been in jail, they can still vote," said Representative Gail Finney. National: Broadcasters Pay Attention to Disenfranchisement The Sentencing Project's Advocacy Director, Kara Gotsch, appeared on NPR's "News and Notes" show highlighting voting rights of individuals with felony convictions. Countering Gotsch's view during the segment, entitled "Assessing Voting Rights," was Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst, David Mulhausen. Click here to listen to the interview. The Sentencing Project's Policy Analyst, Ryan S. King, was also featured on the American News Project which highlighted a Virginia barber who is permanently banned from voting. NPR's show, "The State We're In," featured U.S. disenfranchisement in its coverage, focusing on New Jersey and Rhode Island voting laws. New Jersey law automatically restores voting rights after probation or parole. In 2006, Rhode Island residents voted to restore voting rights upon leaving prison. Maryland: Press Conference to Spotlight Unlawful Cancellation of Registration Applications; Voting Leads to Community Connection, Empowerment The African American Democratic Club of Baltimore City and the NAACP Baltimore City Branch have scheduled a press conference today to notify more than 400 citizens with felony convictions that they may be eligible to vote, despite their having received a letter from the Baltimore City Election Board stating that their voter registration applications were canceled. Applicants were sent undated letters not addressed to anyone specifically. The letters did not mention a deadline for responding to the election board letter nor include contact information or an official's name and signature. "We find it appalling that the Baltimore City Election Board will not correct their error thereby possibly enabling qualified voter registrants to have their applications made active and to allow them to vote," stated Minister C.D. Witherspoon, President of the African American Democratic Club of Baltimore. "We're going to try and get as many former felons as we can," Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr., president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP told the Baltimore Sun. In response to a Daily Times editorial in support of vote restoration, Amy Cruice, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland's Election Protection Campaign, wrote a letter to the editor that described Maryland's voting rights laws and benefits to voting after incarceration. "People who vote feel more connected to their community and are empowered by having a voice in the democratic process," stated Cruice. She stated that formerly incarcerated individuals who vote are less likely to be re-arrested. Iowa: Voting Rights Law is "Simple" According to The Gazette, state officials, including Department of Corrections employees, are unclear on how a person's criminal record affects voting eligibility. "It's really very simple, said Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro. "Iowa's rule is that as long as you're not a convicted felon serving a sentence, you have every right as anyone else has to vote." Each month, the Department of Corrections sends the names of those who have completed their sentences to the governor, who automatically reinstates their rights. Ohio: Secretary of State Backs Voter Education for Individuals with Felony Convictions The Voting Rights Institute of the Ohio Secretary of State has produced a flyer on the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people that is being widely disseminated throughout the state. In cooperation with the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, "Find a New Direction: Reclaim Your Right to Vote" will be distributed on an ongoing basis through corrections agencies, non-profit organizations, and civic groups. The flyer includes basic information on Ohio voter qualification law for people with felony convictions, including such issues as misdemeanor and out-of-state convictions. Florida: Restoration Change Still Doesn't Fix the Problem In response to a Sun-Sentinel investigation that revealed voting registration discrepancies, Muslima Lewis and Mark Schlakman wrote in a Tallahassee Democrat opinion editorial on the continued confusion disenfranchisement laws have brought individuals seeking the right to vote, in addition to state officials. "It would be a travesty if election officials were to, once again, deprive eligible individuals of an opportunity to exercise one of the most fundamental rights in a democratic society. Florida can ill-afford to repeat this history." Lewis, senior attorney for the ACLU's Racial Justice and Voting Rights Projects and Schlakman, senior program director at the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University, write that despite the April 2007 rule change allowing citizens with non violent records to vote, hundreds of thousands still cannot vote. Alabama: NAACP Settles Voting Rights Case, Allows Inmate Voter Education to Continue Rev. Kenneth Glasgow resumed registering Alabama inmates to vote and fill out absentee ballot applications after the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) settled the lawsuit it filed against the Alabama Department of Corrections in federal court earlier this month on behalf of Rev Glasgow. The Alabama Department of Corrections canceled Rev. Glasgow's efforts at the request of the Alabama Republican Party. "Now I can continue the ministry that God gave me: helping to give a voice to the voiceless by reaching out to people in Alabama's correctional facilities who are eligible to vote," said Reverend Glasgow. "The ministry is so critical because too many in Alabama's correctional facilities who are eligible to vote don't know it." Ryan P. Haygood, Co-Director of LDF's Political Participation Group, who represented Rev. Glasgow stated, "This significant development strengthens the integrity of Alabama's democratic processes by guaranteeing that eligible voters who seek to vote will have their voices heard." For additional information, see Associated Press coverage, and Ballot Access News. California: ACLU Voter Education Campaign will be Mainstay for Future Campaigns The ACLU has been broadcasting radio spots and using its Web site to educate formerly incarcerated individuals on their voting rights as part of an ongoing public information campaign. The effort, which also includes handing out bilingual fliers to churches and civic groups, will be used not only for the upcoming election, but future elections, News Channel 3 reported. "A lot of people feel that they have kinda' permanent sentence that it's like they have a big scarlet a on their chest and they'll never have the rights of a normal citizen again," said Eric Greene of the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles. - - - - - - 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/Updates 10/20/08

Virginia: The Law 'Stinks' "This might not be illegal, but it sure stinks to high heaven," quipped Virginia Republican Party Chairman, Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick on state advocates registering detention center inmates awaiting trial. The Washington Post and Washington Examiner stated that registration forms and absentee ballot information was delivered to the chagrin of the Republican Party which, in turn, blasted county officials. National: Voting Rights Confusion, Education, History Commenting on the confusion behind the various disenfranchisement laws throughout the U.S., Erika Wood of NYU's Brennan Center for Justice stated the need for federal voting rights legislation. "The officials that are in touch with the public and would-be voters are confused and misinformed on the law and not trained on the law and once they tell somebody that they are not eligible to vote that information can obviously spread through the community and have a ripple effect - so there really is just massive confusion and misinformation out there that results in what we call 'de facto disenfranchisement," she was quoted as saying in Alternet. The Associated Press reported that numerous local and national organizations throughout the U.S. are engaged in education on voting rights issues for those with felony convictions. "All we're trying to do is make sure that, if someone is eligible, that they know their rights and that if they want to vote, they can take part," said a Barack Obama campaign spokesperson. "I think there's a lot of misinformation out there. Even people who may have been guilty of a misdemeanor feel like the felony laws apply to them and say they can't vote." Insights, the American Bar Association's magazine, featured an article written by Erika Wood on the history of disenfranchisement dating back to Reconstruction - and the progress that has commenced over the last decade. California: Accessible Resources at Prisons for Families, Inmates A voting rights advocacy group is asking the county supervisor if it can set up a voter's information table outside a prison in Alameda County to urge the visitors to get inmates to register and vote by absentee ballot, the Oakland Tribune reported. The Alameda Sheriff's Office has been instrumental in educating inmates on their voting rights. One employee was quoted as saying that fliers are posted around living quarters reminding inmates to vote and that they can request voter-registration forms directly from the facility. "I think we're doing a great job educating inmates on their voting rights," Sgt. Kevin Ary said. Georgia: Those Yet to be Sentenced Can Vote The Georgia NAACP is tackling the issue of inmate voting and spreading the word that inmates awaiting trial can vote in the upcoming election. "Those who have not been sentenced, those who are not carrying felony convictions, those who have done their time, or who may just be getting out and who are off probation...understand that they have a right to vote," NAACP State President Edward DuBose was quoted as saying by WRDW News 12. "There are people who are in jail right now who have not been convicted, who have not been charged, who are just sitting there. They should have the right to exercise their right to vote." Alabama: Several Voting Rights Suits Challenge Constitution, Political Party, Antiquated Law As Election Day gets closer, inmate voting continues to be a pressing issue in Alabama after the Republican Party asked that inmate voting efforts be halted. One lawsuit has been filed by the ACLU on behalf of three formerly incarcerated individuals who weren't allowed to register to vote; a second suit was filed on behalf of Rev. Kenneth Glasgow's efforts to register inmates awaiting trial, according to the Birmingham News. NYU's Brennan Center for Justice also said last week that it wants to seek records about voter roll purges in Alabama and another dozen states. Huntsville Times columnist David Person revisited the voting rights issue in Alabama which has both state employees and prospective voters confused. The state's list of crimes of moral turpitude has grown from 13 to 400 amidst the Republican Party's request that inmate voting cease, in addition to a lawsuit (in jeopardy of being thrown out) filed by formerly incarcerated individuals who want their voting rights restored. "If I didn't know better, I'd think that our leaders are more concerned about how many eligible voters they can refuse the right to vote than they are about ensuring that the right to vote remains sacrosanct," Person's op-ed stated. "Due to Alabama's unfortunate history of suppressing the vote, it would be profoundly disturbing if that were true." An Opelika-Auburn News editorial stated its position on the Secretary of State's decision to allow individuals with drug convictions to vote. "We do not think precincts will be overrun by ex-cons looking to score a drug deal on the way out the door. If they didn't care about America, they wouldn't want the right to vote," the editorial stated. Tennessee: State Reports Increase in Registration of Individuals with Felony Convictions Despite confusion on how and if residents with felony convictions can vote, 1,200 individuals with felony offenses registered to vote by the deadline, according to WSMV-4. In the past, vote restoration required a lawyer and going to court if one was sentenced before Jan. 15, 1973 or after May 18, 1981. (Individuals convicted of a felony between Jan. 15, 1973 and May 17, 1981 never lost their voting rights in Tennessee.) Today, however, individuals must also be current in child support obligations. Recently, a federal judge in Nashville rejected a suit that could have automatically restored the voting rights of thousands of convicted felons who were contesting state law. New York: Voting Rights Must Not Be Denied; State Officials Must be Educated in Order to Educate Others The Albany County Board of Elections was the least informed of voting rights for ex-felons among several Capital Region boards and may have denied many eligible voters access to the booth, according to an NYU Brennan Center for Justice survey gauging the knowledge of state personnel. The Times Union reported that one board of elections representative answered all three survey questions wrong, leading the organization to believe that hundreds of individuals seeking to vote have been erroneously turned away. "They said people on probation could not register to vote or didn't know if it was true, they said ex-felons had to provide documentation, which is not true, and they said they were not familiar with the memo," the Brennan Center's voting rights fellow, Liz Budnitz, stated. Anthony Papa who was incarcerated under New York's Rockefeller laws for 12 years wrote an opinion editorial on being formerly disenfranchised. "When I went to register, I was shocked when they informed me that I had to wait until I was first released from parole. I felt the pain of felony disenfranchisement since it seemed I was being further punished for my crime," he sated. "I saw my Queens neighborhood deteriorating around me but was powerless to do anything about it by casting my vote. I was elated when, after waiting for five years, I completed parole and was able to vote again. Only then did I feel like I was fully welcomed back by society as a citizen." For more articles on impacted people read City Limits and the Democrat and Chronicle. - - - - - - 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/Updates 10/6/08

Last-minute Registration Efforts Across the nation, advocates in many states have been working feverishly to educate individuals with felony convictions about their right to vote and assist them in registering. As many states' registration deadlines approach this week, national, local and grassroots efforts have registered scores of individuals who were unaware of their voting rights status. Georgia Texas Ohio Illinois New Jersey Kentucky (Courier Journal) Kentucky (Herald-Leader) Inmate Voting Numerous jails and prisons across the U.S. were filled with voter registration applications and absentee ballots as various local campaigns promoting voting for persons in prison, where legal, neared a close. Organization volunteers visited jail and prison facilities to distribute registration applications and absentee ballots to individuals awaiting trail or otherwise eligible to vote. Massachusetts Louisiana Georgia Alabama: Registration Suit Ensues The U.S. District Court has been brought in to decide whether Alabama can prohibit inmate voter registration efforts by visitors. Alabama law permits those incarcerated and formerly incarcerated to vote unless they were convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude," according to Ballot Access, but the definition of moral turpitude remains unclear. The governor's office reports that 480 of the state's 575 felony crimes are crimes of moral turpitude, according to the Birmingham News, which include murder, robbery, rape, and certain other offenses. In the wake of Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen terminating a voter registration drive in the state prison that had aimed at assisting people who had not been convicted of a disenfranchising crime, the issue has once again taken center-stage in Alabama. The state's Administrative Office of the Courts, which argues that only 70 state crimes should result in the loss of voting rights, claims thousands of people convicted of crimes are illegally being kept from casting ballots, the Huntsville Times reported. For more coverage, read editorials from the Tuscaloosa News and the Huntsville Times. National: The Sentencing Project, ACLU, Brennan Center for Justice Publish Disenfranchisement Reports The Sentencing Project released a report that found that since 1997, 19 states have amended felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. The report, Expanding the Vote: State Felony Disenfranchisement Reform, 1997- 2008, documents a reform movement over the past eleven years that has resulted in more than 760,000 citizens having regained their right to vote. The report's release coincides with the introduction of new legislation in Congress to secure federal voting rights for nonincarcerated citizens. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center for Justice released a joint report, De Facto Disenfranchisement, which documents that felony disenfranchisement laws are only half the story: untold hundreds of thousands of eligible voters are discouraged from registering and voting because they receive incorrect or misleading information - or no information at all - from elections and criminal justice officials and voter registration forms. The ACLU also released Voting with a Criminal Record, which reports on the variety and complexity of various states' disfranchisement policies that have effectively barred countless eligible Americans from the ballot box. The New York Times featured a blog posted by editorial staff writer, Brent Staples, on the three recently released reports that stated: "We tend to shun people who commit crimes - not just while they do time, but quite often for the rest of their lives. We bar them from housing, jobs, and yes, we strip them of the right to vote. Through these policies, we have created a large and growing felon class that is permanently cut off from the mainstream and stuck on a treadmill that often leads right back to the prison door. Rules that bar former inmates from the polls are excessively punitive, socially alienating and inconsistent with the core principles of American democracy." National: Federal Voting Rights Legislation Introduced Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced SB 3640 Friday, a bill that would secure the Federal voting rights of persons who have been released from incarceration. Sen. Feingold stated the following with the bill's introduction: "Mr. President, in a democracy, no right is more important than the right to vote; in our democracy, no right has been so dearly won. This country was founded on the idea that a just government derives its power from the consent of the governed, a principle codified in the very first words of our Constitution: 'We the People of the United States.'' From the Civil War through the women's suffrage movement through the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through the 26th Amendment, the continuing expansion of the franchise, a broadening of who 'we the people' are, is one of our great American stories. So today I will introduce the Democracy Restoration Act of 2008. This bill will guarantee that citizens who are not incarcerated have the right to vote in Federal elections. National: Reader's Digest 'Rocks the Vote' Reader's Digest featured an article headlined "Jailhouse Rock (the Vote)" which stated the need to release disenfranchisement laws in an effort to reintegrate individuals back into society. "That reasoning goes like this: After paying their 'debt to society,' in the old parlance, government's goal for these individuals-unless we want to see them back behind bars-should be nothing less than having them take their places in the fabric of American life. This entails reconnecting with their families, securing gainful employment, and becoming productive members in the social lives of their community and their nation. In the United States, implicit in this social contract is the right to vote." Illinois: For the Record, They Can Vote Following a training session for election judges that prompted eligibility questions, Journal-Star columnist Pam Adams makes an effort to clear any confusion about vote restoration laws in Illinois. She writes, "[o]nce more, for the record, the forgetful, the unknowledgeable and the ethically impaired, convicted felons can vote in Illinois. Banning felons from voting serves little purpose, especially after they've completed the sentence. They are still citizens." New Jersey: Voting is a Must State Senator Ronald L. Rice writes about confusion among many residents regarding New Jersey's disenfranchisement laws and underscores the importance of educating formerly incarcerated individuals in the Record. "[T]oday, too many people do not understand or exercise their voting rights, and as a result, entire segments of our population - and especially formerly incarcerated individuals - are being underrepresented at the polls on Election Day." He noted the significance of voting as part of the reintegration process for people who have been incarcerated and may feel alienated from the communities to which they return. "Voting is extremely important because it provides citizens with opportunities to make a differences in their own lives. Individuals can influence government decision-making through voting. The act of voting is the single greatest thing individual cans do to take part in government and in public discussion of important policy decisions." Oklahoma: Confusing Law Keeps Individuals Away from Polls "These unfortunate misinterpretations on a county-by-county basis, this just has to stop. We can't afford to disenfranchise people," ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director C.S. Thornton was quoted as saying in the Tahlequah Daily Press. The ACLU of Oklahoma stated that individuals with felony convictions in one county were unable to register because both the applicant and the election board are unclear about the state's laws. The article explains: "A person convicted of a felony may not register to vote for a period of time equal to the time prescribed in the judgment and sentence of the felony. In other words, someone sentenced to a five-year, suspended sentence may not register for the five years spent serving that sentence. Someone convicted of a felony and sentenced to 10 years, but paroled after serving only three, still may not register for those 10 years originally sentenced. Those who have been convicted of a felony, but who have received a deferred sentence, may register to vote, as long as they are otherwise qualified. Those who have received a full pardon - restoring them to full citizenship - may also register to vote." Maryland: State Attorney Agrees with Year-old Reenfranchisement Law Sentinel columnist Mike Sarzo agrees with Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey that voting rights should be restored to individuals with felony convictions. "Giving people a second chance is a bedrock principle of American society," Sarzo stated. "Allowing people to fully integrate back into the community after serving their sentences is an important way of letting people know they still have rights when they leave prison." Ivey expressed his support at a recent voting rights forum. In 2007, Maryland passed a law restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals who have completed their sentence. Virginia: Governor Believes in Vote Restoration Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has restored voting rights to nearly 1,500 individuals with a felony conviction this year, the Washington Times reported. Virginia, which is one of only two states that permanently disenfranchises all persons with a felony conviction, has a process by which interested parties can apply to the governor's office to have their voting rights restored. Gov. Kaine expedited the review process for petitioners with non-violent criminal records this summer, promising that all eligible persons who had submitted a restoration application by August 1st would be processed in time to register for this November's presidential election. Florida: State Fails to Restore Rights Accurately Of the 115,000 individuals with felony offenses who regained their civil rights since clemency rules were changed last year, only 9,000 have registered, according to a Tallahassee Democrat op-ed. Failures in notification efforts and appropriate follow up are to blame, Mark Schlakman states. He argues that recent efforts by Governor Charlie Crist to address the backlog are insufficient and, in order to implement sustainable reform, the state should readopt a 1975 clemency rule that made restoration virtually automatic, rather than relying on a cumbersome three-tier system. - - - - - - 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

Press Release: Legislation Introduced to Restore Voting Rights for People Who Have Finished Prison Sentence

For Immediate Release: October 1, 2008 Contact: Jasmine Tyler 202-294-8292 Legislation Introduced to Restore Voting Rights for People Who Have Finished Prison Sentence Millions of Voters Could Reclaim Voting Rights Drug Policy Alliance: Drug War the New Jim Crow; Felony Reinfranchisment the New Civil Rights Movement Federal legislation was introduced this week that would permit individuals who have been previously convicted of a crime, have completed their prison term and are living in the community the right to vote in federal elections. The Democracy Restoration Act of 2008 (DRA, S. 6340, H.R. 7136) was introduced in both chambers of Congress by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). The U.S. currently denies 5.3 million, or one in 41, citizens the right to vote due to felony convictions and is the only democracy that disenfranchises citizens who have completed their prison sentence. The DRA restores voting rights to individuals who have returned from prison or were never sentenced to a prison term. Because periods of supervised release, probation or parole can last decades and is part of a person’s sentence, reinfranchising individuals after completing their sentence would not ensure the same access to the ballot box as this measure does by giving voting rights back to people already living in our communities. This bill would also instruct officials in each state to notify individuals of their restored right to ensure access to the ballot. Nineteen states, including Maryland, Texas and Florida, have reformed felony disenfranchisement laws over the last decade, increasing voter participation through bipartisan reform efforts. These reform efforts have set the stage for Congress to act and, although there is little time to enact this legislation this year, it lays the groundwork for restoration in the near future. “Once passed, this bill will mean that people who are living in society and paying taxes will no longer be second class citizens,” said Jasmine L. Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Regaining the right to vote after prison means formerly incarcerated individuals will have every opportunity to be civically engaged and influence the political process as everyday Americans.” No group has been harder hit by disenfranchisement than African Americans. After gaining the right to vote in 1965, and overcoming the history of slavery and racism that overshadowed our country’s early history, African Americans suffered a new form of Jim Crow under the guise of the modern-day war on drugs. Thirteen percent of African-American men have been denied the right to vote because of felony conviction, the majority of these convictions stem from drug law enforcement. Although drug use rates are similar for both African Americans and whites, African Americans make up more than half of those convicted of felony drug charges. Upon introduction of the DRA, Sen. Feingold, addressing the President, said “…the practice of disenfranchising people with felony convictions has an explicitly racist history. Like the grandfather clause, the literacy test, and the poll tax, civil death became a tool of Jim Crow.” “Unjust policing practices, misuse of prosecutorial power, and lack of judicial discretion all converge to create the judicial system that African Americans experience, namely injustice, and it has led us to the newest installment of racialized community suppression: the war on drugs,” Tyler said. “At least in federal elections, this legislation will change that.”

New Report: State Disenfranchisement Reform Restores Right to More than 760,000

Friends:

The Sentencing Project today released a report, Expanding the Vote: State Felony Disenfranchisement Reform, 1997- 2008, that documents a reform movement over the past eleven years that has resulted in more than 760,000 citizens having regained their right to vote. The report found that since 1997, 19 states have amended felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. The report's release coincides with the introduction of new legislation in Congress to secure federal voting rights for nonincarcerated citizens.

The report finds:  

  • Nine states either repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws.
  • Two states expanded voting rights to persons under community supervision (probation and parole).
  • Five states eased the restoration process for persons seeking to have their right to vote restored after completing sentence.
  • Three states improved data and information sharing.

The report documents the rates of disenfranchisement and the racially disparate impact of felony disenfranchisement policy in the 19 states that have enacted reforms.  It also highlights the profound personal impact that this policy has had on those who have regained their voting rights, or continue to be disenfranchised. 

Recent state reforms include:

  • Maryland repealed its post-sentence voting ban in 2007, restoring the right to vote to 52,000 residents.
  • Florida eased the complexity of its restoration process for persons who have completed a sentence for a non-violent offense.
  • Governors in Kentucky and Virginia expressed support for voting rights for persons who completed sentence by easing the restoration process and expediting restoration applications, respectively.
  • North Carolina and Louisiana passed notification bills mandating that the state notify individuals of the law regarding voting rights and the process of registration.
Despite these reforms, an estimated 5 million people will continue to be ineligible to vote in November's Presidential election, including nearly 4 million who reside in the 35 states that still prohibit some combination of persons on probation, parole, and/or people who have completed their sentence from voting. In response to this fact, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) plans to introduce the Democracy Restoration Act and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) plans to introduce the Civic Participation and Rehabilitation Act this week to restore federal voting rights to all citizens released from prison and living in the community.
                                                         -The Sentencing Project

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 9/19/08

Alabama: Inmate Voter Registration Efforts Halted Under pressure from the Alabama Republican Party, the efforts led by Rev. Kenneth Glasgow to register inmates so they could cast absentee ballots have been halted, the Associated Press reported. An email from State Rep. Mike Hubbard, chairman of the Republican party, told Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen that the party supports the idea of registering people to vote, but not those who are incarcerated. The letter was received after the Associated Press and other media highlighted Glasgow's success in registering 80 inmates in two days with goals to register "hundreds more" before the deadline. "I think they're more worried about me being a Democrat than anything," said Glasgow. "The chairman of the Republican Party and the chairman of the Democratic Party can go in there with me and monitor it to make sure it's nonpartisan." Alabama law prohibits felons convicted of "crimes of moral turpitude" from voting unless they have had their rights restored. Though the Constitution does not define a crime of moral turpitude, court opinions have recently said they include murder, robbery, rape, and certain other offenses. "A clear legal definition would not stop the debate, but it would at least clear up a few gray areas," a Clanton Advertiser editorial stated. Another editorial published in the Anniston Star in support of vote restoration stated, "It only makes sense for states to implement programs that will help released felons become productive, lawful residents who steer clear of the very activities that put them behind bars in the first place." A Times Daily editorial on the issue opposed Glasgow's efforts to register inmates. "Time in prison means a loss of personal freedoms and all but the basic right to humane treatment. Allowing inmates to vote is simply anathema to serving time for committing a crime. But allowing felons to vote inside prison walls contradicts the very nature of being punished for a crime." For more coverage, see the Montgomery Advertiser and CBS42. National: Disenfranchisement Gets National Attention, Gains Momentum Several states are successfully making moves to restore voting rights to individuals with felony records, with the backing of policy makers, state officials and grassroots advocates, according to a New York Times news feature. The article cited the line between bipartisan registration efforts and campaign tactics in gaining votes, in addition to the varying and confusing disenfranchisement laws of each state. Reggie Mitchell, a former voter-registration worker for People for the American Way stated, "You're talking about incredible numbers of people out there who now may have had their right to vote restored and don't even know it. In Florida, "we're talking tens of thousands of people. And in the 2000 election, in the state of Florida, 300 people made the difference." Mississippi: Lawsuit Demands Right to Vote The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Mississippi filed a federal lawsuit last week challenging the state's denial of voting rights to citizens with felony convictions. The Mississippi Constitution allows individuals with felony offenses to vote for president and vice president, but "election administrators are denying that right in practice," the Hudson Valley Press reported. The suit asks that citizens with felony records be allowed to register to vote by the October deadline. "With the presidential election less than two months away, Mississippi is denying thousands of citizens their fundamental right to vote," said Nancy Abudu, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "By refusing to allow eligible citizens to register and vote for the highest offices in the land, Mississippi election officials are undermining the integrity of the state's election system and degrading our country's democratic principles. We will not sit back and let election supervisors continue to violate state and federal law." According to Mississippi's constitution, people with certain felony convictions are allowed to vote for president and vice president, but not for other political offices. But because the state's voter registration application does not allow all prospective voters to register for presidential and vice presidential elections only, many voters are wrongly disqualified. The ACLU is representing Jerry Young and Christy Colley, two Mississippi residents who have been convicted of felonies in the past and cannot vote due to the flawed administration of the state's election laws. Kristy Bennett, one of the ACLU staff attorneys wrote a commentary on the suit in the Jackson Free Press. "It is obvious that the framers of our state Constitution recognized the importance of allowing all citizens to vote for the leaders of this country, and we must continue to fight for this fundamental right today," she wrote. "Mississippi election officials are undermining the integrity of the state's election system and degrading our country's democratic principles. By filing the lawsuit, we hope that all Mississippians with felony convictions will have the opportunity to register to vote." For additional coverage, see WLBT3. South Carolina: Elections Officials in Need of More Training Local election officials didn't make the grade on a voting restoration survey put out by the American Civil Liberties Union, WYFF reported. The officials didn't know all the details about when individuals with felony offenses regain their right to vote in South Carolina. The ACLU and South Carolina Progressive Network released the results of their statewide survey and called for changes in state voting laws, more education and notification of vote restoration. Currently, state law allows individuals to vote once they have served their sentence, including probation and parole. Survey questions included whether people with misdemeanor convictions and those with out-of-state felony convictions could vote; 48 percent of officials state-wide answered incorrectly, according to a State article titled, "Ex-felons voting rights' questions fool officials." "The history in South Carolina is preventing people from voting, and we're still living that history," said Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network. "The people on the streets don't understand (the rules), and if they go to their election commission, they're going to get this kind of wrong information." Survey questions were asked of whoever answered the phone at the election commissions, to simulate the experience of regular callers, said Rachel Bloom of the ACLU. For more coverage, see The Post Courier Oklahoma: Election Board Passing on Faulty Information, ACLU Survey Documents An ACLU survey of election boards in Oklahoma's 77 counties found that 17 counties provided erroneous information on the state's re-enfranchisement policies. One county said a convicted felon was never eligible to vote again, the Associated Press reported. In actuality, individuals with felony convictions may vote once they have completed their sentence. State Rep. Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City plans to file a notification bill requiring the state to inform those of their rights upon release. Tennessee: Excitement About Election, Elections Officials See Registration Increase The Tennessee Coordinator of Elections reported a significant increase in the number of individuals with felony records seeking to have their rights restored, according to the Tri-State Defender. The process for Clifton Ingram included completing a Certificate of Restoration form at a County Election Commission, taking it to the Probation and Parole office to get required signatures and returning it to the Election Commission for verification. "I did what they told me to do," said Ingram, who had been putting off the vote restoration process after receiving probation for a nonviolent offense in 2006. In the past, vote restoration required a lawyer and going to court if one was sentenced before Jan. 15, 1973 or after May 18, 1981. (Individuals convicted of a felony between Jan. 15, 1973 and May 17, 1981 never lost their voting rights in Tennessee.) Today, however, individuals must also be current in child support obligations. Florida: Statewide Ad Campaign Targets Individuals with Felony Offenses ''Our nation's future is at stake. Your voice shouldn't be silenced by your past,' states campaign ads pushed by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. The organizations launched a voter registration campaign this week targeting individuals with felony convictions whose rights have been restored. The ads are displayed in minority communities across the state in English and Spanish, the Miami Herald reported. According to CBS4, the groups have also published an online database displaying the civil rights status of those with felony convictions at www.restorerights.org. Smaller, grassroots efforts are also helping eligible individuals register to vote before the Oct. 6 deadline, including the Marion County Voters Registration Coalition which is holding a workshop Saturday. Volunteers will also be on hand to help fill out paperwork and find out what requirements must be satisfied before individuals register to vote, according to the Star Banner. "People around the country have the mistaken impression that Florida's felon disfranchisement crisis has been adequately addressed by Governor [Charlie] Crist; sadly this is not true," Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida, was quoted as saying about the the governor's recent restoration efforts in the Foster Folly News. "The State had no real program to notify people of their eligibility and consequently few have registered to vote. That is why we have had to step in and launch a program that should have been conducted by Florida officials last year." Virginia: Increase in Vote Restoration According to the Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has restored rights for 2,305 individuals with non-violent offenses from the time he took office on Jan. 1, 2006, through the end of last month, the Daily Press reported. That is more than a 32 percent increase from the 1,736 nonviolent felons who had their rights restored from Jan. 1, 2002, through Aug. 31, 2004, leading up to the 2004 presidential race, the secretary said. The increase is attributed to the numerous organizations and churches that have taken to residents' homes and educated citizens with felony convictions about the pardon process in an effort to regain their right to vote. In Virginia, a nonviolent offender must wait three years after the expiration of his or her probation before applying to have rights restored. Those charged with a violent offense must wait five years. All fines and court restitution must also be paid. - - - - - - 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

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School