Felony Disenfranchisement

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The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 7/24/08

Alabama: ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Crimes of Moral Turpitude, Restitution Requirement The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of three women who had completed their sentences but were denied their right to vote. The suit challenges a 2005 opinion by Attorney General Troy King expanding the types of offenses for which an individual can lose the right to vote. Approximately 250,000 people in Alabama are banned from voting because of a conviction for a crime of "moral turpitude," which is defined by statute. In 2003, the Alabama Legislature passed a law requiring the Board of Pardons and Parole to provide a "certificate of eligibility to register to vote" to all persons who have completed sentence and paid fines and restitution, as long as they had not been convicted of specified serious offenses. The 2005 opinion by the attorney general added additional disqualifying offenses, many of them nonviolent. The ACLU is arguing that the attorney general's list is unconstitutional because only the state legislature can define crimes of "moral turpitude." "This whole notion of moral turpitude is so vague and imprecise," said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "It's in the larger interest of the general public to rehabilitate people. It's one of the things that rehabilitates people, participating in the political process." The ACLU is also challenging the requirement that all fines and restitution be paid prior to being eligible to register to vote. Read the complaint, motion for preliminary injunction, and motion for class certification. Florida: Make a "Simple Fix" "Don't make convicts pay for their sins again," reads an Orlando Sentinel editorial in support of complete civil rights restoration. The editorial board urges Gov. Charlie Crist and the Executive Clemency Board to make a "simple fix" to modify current law that keeps many individuals with felony offenses from voting or applying for occupational or business licenses because they owe restitution. The Orlando Sentinel argues that voting rights should be restored automatically upon completion of sentence and job eligibility should be determined by the oversight agencies of the specific occupations. "It's important that they be given every reasonable opportunity to make the transition back to society as smoothly as possible," the editorial states. "Finding a job is critical. So why is Florida making that process more challenging?" Virginia: Collateral Consequences Unfair, Unnecessary "The labyrinth of rules and regulations for re- enfranchisement in the commonwealth needs to end," commented Edward Hailes Jr., senior attorney at Advancement Project, in reference to Virginia's disenfranchisement laws. In an op-ed published in the Roanoke Times, Hailes stated that denying citizens' voices is undemocratic and unjust. "Contrary to popular belief, felony disenfranchisement laws are not part of the criminal justice system. Instead, they are state election laws, enacted by state legislatures and governors or hardwired into constitutions. Losing the right to vote after a felony conviction in Virginia is not in any way part of a criminal sentence -- it is a collateral consequence dictated by state law." On behalf of the Advancement Project, Hailes applauded Gov. Tim Kaine's efforts to expedite the review process for petitioners with non-violent criminal records. Since taking office, Governor Kaine has restored voting rights to 1,809 persons who had been convicted of a felony. North Carolina: Community Groups Get Out The Vote Three organizations in North Carolina hosted a rally to educate people about the rights of formerly incarcerated citizens and register them to vote in the upcoming election. Democracy North Carolina, Fresh Start Incorporated and the Institute for Community Justice of Fayetteville State registered nine individuals at the event. "The right to vote is one of our most fundamental rights in a democracy," said Jennifer Frye, associate director of Democracy North Carolina. "It's a ticket to feeling like a first-class citizen." In North Carolina, citizens with felony offenses can vote after the completion of sentence, including probation and parole. Contact Information -- e-mail: [email protected], web: http://www.sentencingproject.org

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 7/18/08

Louisiana: Bill Requiring Voting Rights Notification Gets Thumbs Up from Local ACLU The ACLU of Louisiana has applauded Gov. Bobby Jindal's recent signing of a law that mandates the Department of Public Safety and Corrections to notify people leaving its supervision about the process of regaining their voting rights. The law, which goes into effect August 15, also requires the Department to provide returning citizens with voter registration applications. "By requiring notice of voting rights reinstatement to those completing their felony sentences, the Louisiana legislature and Gov. Jindal have taken an important step towards ensuring that all of Louisiana's eligible voters can exercise their fundamental right to vote," said Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, which lobbied in favor of the bill. "The enactment of this legislation shows that the right to vote transcends partisan politics," Esman said. "This bill is about the strength of our democracy." Louisiana's current law bans nearly 100,000 citizens from voting until they have completed parole or probation. Thousands more are kept from the polls because they wrongly believe that they cannot regain their right to vote, according to the ACLU. "The ACLU of Louisiana will be working with Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE) to help ensure that the Department of Public Safety and Corrections implements the bill quickly and effectively," said Norris Henderson, VOTE's founder and director. - - - - - - 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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The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 7/11/08

Louisiana: New Law Requires State to Notify Individuals of Voter Status A felon enfranchisement notice bill was signed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal which requires the Dept. of Public Safety and Corrections to provide each person who completes their felony sentence with information about regaining the right to vote. The bill also requires that individuals are given a voter registration form. The law will go into effect August 15. Florida: Clock Running Down for Eligible Formerly Incarcerated Individuals to Register to Vote Governor Charlie Crist's decision to ease the restoration process for certain formerly incarcerated individuals last year was expected to impact between 250,000 and 300,000 citizens. However, the actual number of restored voters may be about 115,000 once the clemency board signs all the certificates, according to the Florida Parole Commission. Many barriers have slowed the process, according to the St. Petersburg Times. The Parole Commission suffered financial setbacks and has decreased staff despite a backlog of 60,000 restoration requests. And despite law enforcement and corrections agencies' efforts to send restoration certificates to formerly incarcerated citizens, many have been returned as undeliverable. "There are just too many impediments, and it doesn't seem like easy solutions are being adopted," said Florida ACLU attorney Muslima Lewis, who runs the group's efforts on restoration of rights. The ACLU and the People for the American Way Foundation have sponsored civil rights seminars and printed posters promoting a toll-free helpline, but funding was pulled last year. "We're looking for a needle in a haystack," said Sharon Lettman with People for the American Way Foundation. "At the end of the day, if they haven't seen our public service announcement on television or if they haven't seen a newspaper, they may not find out they can vote." Voters have until July 28 to register in time for the August 26 primary. For additional news, read Capitol News Service coverage. Tennessee: Changing Attitudes, Lawsuit May Increase Number of Voters Come November According to the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office, the voting rights of 469 citizens with felony offenses were restored over the last six months - twice the number of people who had voting rights restored during the same time last year, an Associated Press article reported. "We have a black man, Obama, that could lead a country that once enslaved people like him," said James Settles, who founded Aphesis House, a network of transitional living homes for ex-offenders. "I think some of the men would like to take part, experience that vote. But they've got a whole lot of things in their way." Tennessee does not automatically restore voting rights to persons who have completed their sentence. Citizens hoping to vote must first pay restitution and child support, which is being challenged in court by the ACLU Voting Rights Project. The first motion will be heard later this month in Nashville. National: Formerly Incarcerated Individuals Need Voting Rights in Order to Speak Up for Their Issues Writing about the lack of input formerly incarcerated citizens have upon returning to their communities due felony disenfranchisement laws, Dr. Henrie M. Treadwell, Associate Director of Development at the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine expressed her support for vote restoration in a Blacknews.com op-ed. "As voters express their desire for change in America's presidential campaign, part of the change should be ensuring that all Americans can execute their constitutional right to vote." Delaware: House Bill Defines Completion of Sentence as Having Paid Restitution Delaware bill HB 457, which requires the full payment of fees and fines as part of the definition of "completion of sentence," was passed in the House earlier this week. The restoration process under the proposed law would include receiving a pardon or waiting five years after completion of a sentence as well as paying all fines and restitution before regaining voting rights. The Senate still has to approve the measure and lawmakers must approve the same bill a second time during the next General Assembly, which begins in January 2009, to complete the constitutional change. Read the Delaware News Journal for more coverage. Virginia: Citizens' Voting Rights Turns Political On NewAmericaMedia.org, Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson balances the political implications and motives of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's consideration of expediting the restoration of voting rights to certain individuals with a felony conviction. Hutchinson stated, "[w]hatever the motive, the only thing that really counts is that the permanent felon bans that shove tens of thousands of ex offenders to a political netherworld be ended and ended now." - - - - - - 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 7/03/08

Michigan: Officials' Misunderstanding Leads to Misinformed, Nonvoting Citizens' Formerly incarcerated citizens often return to their communities "with the intention of addressing a system that unjustly led to their incarceration," according to a Detroit advocacy group, Helping Our Prisoners Elevate (H.O.P.E.). "Most people that go to prison gain a greater awareness," H.O.P.E.'s Kwasi Akwamu was quoted as saying in a recent Michigan Citizen article. "We encourage ex-prisoners to vote - to become part of that process and change those harsh policies." Although individuals who have served prison time regain their rights upon release, many are unaware of reenfranchisement laws in Michigan, and nationwide. In the article, The Sentencing Project's Executive Director Marc Mauer cites a 10-state survey in which 31% of local election officials misunderstood voting laws, thus misinforming formerly incarcerated individuals. "It's the lack of information," stated Mauer. "There's no systematic means by which they are informed of their right to vote." Tennessee: Lawsuit Aims to Strike Down "Poll Tax," Restore Rights A lawsuit brought by the Atlanta-based ACLU Voting Rights Project challenges the constitutionality of the state's law, which does not automatically restore rights after individuals complete their sentence. Furthermore, citizens charged with felony offenses are banned from voting if they owe child support or court-ordered restitution. Preliminary motions will be heard in Nashville later this month. One of the 90,000 citizens barred from voting in Tennessee is 20-year-old Louis Horton, who received three months in prison and two years of probation for burglary. After serving his time, Horton attempted to have his rights restored, but was denied because he owed about $4,000 in court-ordered restitution. "I been saying every vote counts," said Horton. "Now, I don't know that I would vote for Obama strictly because he's a black man. I like what he has to say. The only thing I can say for sure is this is a year where it would be nice to stick my vote in there, too." According to the Tennessean, Horton, who is one of three men named in the suit, is one of thousands of African Americans who are disproportionately arrested, charged and convicted of crimes, which are pushing to regain the right to vote. Between January 1 and June 24 of this year, 469 former felons requested and received a restoration of their voting rights. Others affected by the law include Alex Friedmann, who wasn't immediately interested in his voting rights after completing his sentence, but believed his vote should be counted. "When you get out, your priorities are to find a place to live, earn an income, and if you are like most people, get your personal life in order ... repair relationships with your family," said Friedmann, who is associate editor of Prison Legal News. "Voting rights generally don't figure in until you have reached a certain point of stability." For more coverage, read a blog post from Knoxville's WBIR.com. National: "Illogical System" in Florida in Need of "Complete Overhaul" A New York Times editorial advocating for automatic restoration in Florida, states that "the United States is uniquely unforgiving" in its disenfranchisement laws. Despite the state's disenfranchisement reform last year, the New York Times argues that restoring rights only to citizens convicted of nonviolent offenses is "short of what's needed," and suggests a "complete overhaul of a wildly illogical system." It also states that the extensive background checks are unnecessary and time consuming for a short-staffed Parole Commission. The editorial further states: "Quite apart from the fact that it is undemocratic to bar people from the voting booth because they owe money, the system is transparently counterproductive since it prevents people from landing the jobs they will need to make restitution. Denying ex-offenders a chance to make an honest living is a sure way to drive them back to jail." - - - - - - 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 6/27/08

Virginia: Governor Receptive to Disenfranchisement Reform for those Charged with Non-violent Offenses The Washington Post editorialized in support of Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine's effort to re- enfranchise citizens who have completed their felony sentences. "We have no reason to believe Mr. Kaine is acting on political motives, but even if he were, his actions affirm a truth that all but a few states have accepted: Felons who pay their debt to society should not be denied the right to vote," the editorial states. Virginia is overly restrictive in its disenfranchisement policies and should not permanently exclude individuals with felony records from the voting process, the Post contends. Appearing on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" program earlier this week broadcast in the Washington, D.C. area, Gov. Kaine expressed his willingness to support changes in the Commonwealth's laws - but only to those convicted of non-violent offenses. "When somebody wants to participate, I think we ought to have procedures that enable them to once they've shown that [they] can do fine in civil society," he said. "It would have to be a constitutional amendment that would give the legislature the power to set up that kind of format and I think it should be in most instances, more automatic." In response to a Daily Press column , Janice Puffenberger commented on the issue of offering formerly incarcerated individuals a second chance in society. "The fact that we refuse to let felons return to full membership in society after paying their dues, by refusing them the right to vote, leads to recidivism," she writes. We don't give a break to those who make mistakes, so technically their problem is really our problem." Florida: To the Governor, Congrats … and Continue On "Gov. Charlie Crist is to be congratulated" for his part in helping to restore the rights of 115,000 citizens with felony offenses, a St. Petersburg Times editorial states. As more await voting rights eligibility notices, Crist has the option of streamlining the entire civil rights restoration process, which would include allowing those with felony offenses to apply for professional licenses. According to the Times, if Crist moves in this direction, the state could return to the Executive Clemency rules of 1975 under Gov. Reuben Askew, when restoration of rights was automatic after completion of parole or probation. The move could further eliminate the current backlog that the Parole Commission is experiencing as it continues to go through a backlog of 60,000 restoration cases. An additional 4,000 applications are submitted each month for review by the Commission. Massachusetts: Voting Not a "Privilege for the Virtuous" "Voting is a fundamental right, not a privilege for the virtuous," contends a Boston Globe editorial. Commenting on the Brennan Center for Justice's recent study on the various laws and impacts of disenfranchisement, the editorial further states that the fact that voting rights vary state by state is "bizarre." As recently as eight years ago, Massachusetts allowed those incarcerated to vote. Now, however, voting rights are restored upon release from prison. - - - - - - 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 6/20/08

Florida: Finally, "Sub Group" of Potential Voters Getting Attention In Florida there are an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 potential new voters - former felony offenders - that could participate in the upcoming presidential race, the Tamp Bay Tribune reported. NBC affiliate WPTV-5 is calling formerly incarcerated individuals the most sought after "sub group" in the upcoming election and reports that both Republicans and Democrats are vying for their support. Despite the positive news, there continues to be a backlog in rights restoration cases, according to the Parole Commission, the investigative arm of the Clemency Board. Since Governor Charlie Crist and the Clemency Board voted to ease the restoration process for nonviolent offenders last year, about 115,000 individuals have regained the right to vote. About 300,000, however, are still waiting in the wings to be notified of their eligibility. Adding to that, about 4,000 ex-offenders come up for review each month after they are released or their probation is terminated, stated Mark Schlakman, senior program director at the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University in a Tallahassee Democrat opinion editorial. "With another stroke of his pen, Gov.Charlie Crist, with support from at least two Cabinet members, also could enable many ex-offenders to regain their civil rights and register to vote. Only then will the rights-restoration process reflect the fundamental fairness that the governor has been talking about." Gov. Crist spoke highly of the restoration process during a two-day Restoration of Rights Summit sponsored by the state Department of Corrections. It was also learned that the Legislature recently cut 20 percent of the Parole Commission's budget, which resulted in the loss of nine employees who work on civil rights applications, the St. Petersburg Times reported. "Even with the changes to the rules in Florida's civil rights laws, the process for ex-offenders to regain voting rights is cumbersome, particularly in the face of budget cuts and shortage of staff at the Florida Parole Commission," writes Martha Hill in a News-Press op-ed. "Gov. Crist walked the first step, but the journey is still long." Muslima Lewis, director of the voting rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida, agreed in a New York Times article. "There is a large demand for this," she said. "And it is a lot higher this year with the election." Virginia: Governor, Advocates Play 'Beat the Clock' to Register Former Offenders "This is not a radical idea," states a Roanoke Times editorial, of automatic restoration for formerly incarcerated individuals. "In most states, a felon's right to vote is restored automatically upon completion of his or her sentence. Virginia is unusually and unreasonably restrictive." Applauding Gov. Tim Kaine's efforts to restore voting rights in time to participate in the presidential election this fall, the editorial states that Kaine is "bringing greater fairness to an unduly harsh system." There have been claims that Gov. Kaine's effort to register this new pool of voters by August 1 is coupled with Sen. Barack Obama's campaign to also register tens of thousands of new voters this summer in Virginia; Gov. Kaine said partisanship isn't a factor. Civic and social associations including the ACLU and the NAACP are teaming up to aid thousands of citizens with felony offenses to apply for rights restoration by the deadline. "A lot of felons operate under the miscomprehension that loss of their voting rights is permanent, so what we are doing, is saying, 'No, no, no, there is a way,'" Gwinnett Hagens, executive director of Democracy South was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. "It is going to be a challenge for us if we get absolutely swamped, but we will divert staff to do this." - - - - - - 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 6/12/08

Rhode Island: The Payoffs of Voting, Education Andres Idarraga has been accepted to Yale Law School - ten years after the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institution accepted him into its system for a cocaine conviction. Idarraga, who graduated this year from Brown University, has since become a prominent advocate for restoring the right to vote to thousands of persons disenfranchised in Rhode Island because of a felony conviction. As a result of his and others' efforts, Rhode Island law was reformed in 2006 and now allows individuals with felony convictions to vote immediately after being released from prison. Now, Idarraga will further hone his legal talents at Yale. "I ... realized that the odds against an ex-offender can be very high, particularly if he or she is reaching for the stars," said Yale graduate and Corrections Director A.T. Wall, who personally drove Idarraga to New Haven for an interview with the law school's dean. "There was no doubt in my mind that Andres had the ability, the intellect and the drive to succeed in law school." Mississippi: Giving Reenfranchisement a "More Serious Look" Mississippi should reconsider its current disenfranchisement policies and reenfranchisement procedures, according to an opinion editorial written by the publisher of the Greenwood Commonwealth. Though Tim Kalich states that overall voter participation of all state residents should be the main concern, he writes that for the 150,000 formerly incarcerated individuals who want to vote, the process should be made less time- consuming and cumbersome. "While most of these former felons don't care, a segment does feel that it is being punished in perpetuity by being barred from the voting booth," he stated. National: "Unfairly Punished Twice" Numerous elections in the nation could have had different outcomes if citizens with felony convictions had the opportunity to vote, according to an opinion editorial written by Sonata Lee. Published in the Huffington Post, Lee's op-ed questions the policy of disenfranchisement and the dramatic variation of disenfranchisement laws across the nation. She further states that formerly incarcerated individuals are "punished twice." "America is a country that prides itself on being a democracy yet we allow millions of our citizens -- those who could benefit the most from being active in our political process -- to be disenfranchised," she stated. "Overly punitive legislation and a devastating war on drugs have resulted in the disenfranchisement of 5.3 million people who are unable to vote in this country because of a felony conviction." - - - - - - 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 6/5/08

Puerto Rico: Incarcerated and Politically Active Prior to casting their votes in the Democratic primary politically involved inmates in Puerto Rico were interviewed by the Associated Press at the Correctional Institute 501 in San Juan. "Health plans, education, jobs - these are things I'm counting on when I get out," said 29-year-old Omar Gonzalez. In Puerto Rico the law affords people in prison the right to vote. Yesenia Lociel, a corrections department spokeswoman, said 130 of the 448 medium and maximum-security inmates at the prison asked to vote - a turnout comparable to local primary elections. Though U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans have no voting representation in Congress and cannot vote for president in the general election. Some of the prisoners, however, said they hope the population at large can have a larger say over national affairs in the future as the U.S. economy affects their progress upon release. Ghana: Ensuring Inmates are Able to Exercise Existing Voting Rights The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has asked the Electoral Commission (EC) to facilitate general election voting by inmates within the Ghana Prisons Service. Article 42 of the Constitution states that "every citizen of Ghana of 18 years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda," and does not disenfranchise incarcerated citizens. Inmates, however, have reportedly not exercised their right to vote. The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr Afari-Gyan, said although it was not the commission's intention to disenfranchise anyone, it did not, by convention, set up polling stations in certain places like prisons. "If the EC takes these steps, then it will demonstrate its commitment to ensuring that Ghanaians who are entitled and eligible to vote exercise their franchise," said CHRI Africa Co-coordinator, Nana Oye Lithur. Mississippi: Individual Re-enfranchisement Bills Must be Sought for Each Citizen "I committed a crime, and I paid my debt to society for that crime by serving time in prison," said Mississippi resident Steven Hubbard. "But when I was released, my punishment didn't end. Being stripped of the right to vote is not fair to convicted felons who pay their debt to society and serve the time given to them by the courts. It's almost like I was exiled from the country. If I can't vote, then I can't be an American, right?" Hubbard is one of Mississippi's 150,000 people who are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. In Mississippi, after a sentence has been completed, anyone seeking restoration of voting rights must go to their legislator to persuade them to author an individual re-enfranchising bill. Both houses of the Legislature must then pass the bill, and the governor must sign it, according to the Mississippi Daily Journal. Ten to 12 citizens are re-enfranchised in Mississippi each year. Click here to read the article. An opinion editorial commenting on the recent disenfranchisement media coverage called Danza Johnson's Daily Journal report "the most thorough and flushed-out article." Published by the Daily Mississippian, the student newspaper of the University of Mississippi, the op-ed written by Camron Johnson stated that the Daily Journal piece featured proponents, including The Sentencing Project; opponents, including Roger Clegg; and pertinent bureaucrats and statistics from The Sentencing Project. "We have a mushrooming stigmatized class of people, untouchables, who after serving their time and enduring their punishment are never really allowed to return to society at all," Johnson writes. "Proponents of ex-felon voting bans rely on pigeonholing all former felons as uniformly dangerous and humorously intent on somehow using their votes to change the laws they'd break. Some proponents craft a straw man argument - break the law, then suffer the punishment - as if opponents of the bans are suggesting no punishment at all, instead of what they're actually advocating: amending the nature of the punishment." National: National Black Police Association Supports Automatic Vote Restoration with Resolution The National Black Police Association recently voted to approve a resolution in support of the restoration of voting rights. The NBPA is a nationwide organization of African American Police Associations dedicated to the promotion of justice, fairness, and effectiveness in law enforcement. The resolution reads: "Whereas, the NBPA recognizes that denying the franchise to people who are living in the community serves no law enforcement purpose and violates core principles of democracy and equality ... the NBPA believes that barring people from the political process hinders effective policing by undermining the ability for police to build strong community partnerships." Further, the resolution supports automatic restoration upon prison release. West Virginia: Why Not? In the Charleston Gazette's Reader's Voice, a section giving voice to West Virginia residents on various issues, one reader's comment stated: "I can't understand why a person would say a felon shouldn't vote. It is mean and vindictive to hold people's pasts against them. It is not the Christian way. After all, we are all old sinners saved by grace." Disenfranchisement laws in West Virginia ban those from voting until completion of a prison sentence and parole. - - - - - - 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 5/30/08

Georgia: A Dire Need to Define Crimes of Moral Turpitude The Georgia ACLU has asked the state General Assembly to define the constitution's list of felonies of moral turpitude which ban certain individuals from voting, the Times-Union reported. Under the state constitution, anyone convicted of a felony involving a crime of moral turpitude cannot vote until their sentence has been completed and all court-related fees and fines are satisfied. "The problem is, if the legislature meant all felonies, they could say all felonies," said Nancy Abudu, staff counsel for the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "Given disparities in race and class, the population it affects the most is also the population that is also disparately impacted by criminal justice." In Alabama last year, a post-sentence voting ban was lifted by Judge Robert Vance until the state defined its crimes of moral turpitude. The Alabama Supreme Court said Vance exceeded his authority, however, Alabama's crimes of moral turpitude were defined to include: felony DUI, felony possession of drugs, violation of liquor laws, assault and battery, speeding, trespass to land, attempted burglary, doing business without a license and aiding a prisoner to escape. Virginia: Expedited Process Motivates Churches to Join Restoration Effort Local churches in Virginia are rallying to educate formerly incarcerated citizens about voting rights restoration and working to get as many of them as possible registered to vote by August 1 - in time for the November election. "This is the election that can restore human dignity to thousands of people who have been disenfranchised in any number of ways: economically, educationally, in the justice system or with basic civil rights," said Gaylene Kanoyton, a civic volunteer with the state-wide effort. "That's why we need to make sure everyone who is eligible actually gets out to vote." Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states that permanently disenfranchise all citizens convicted of felony offenses. This year, however, Virginia enacted an expedited restoration application process because the state always gets swamped during presidential-election years, according to the Daily Press. The expedited process, which still requires action by the governor, is not extended to those convicted of violent and drug-distribution offenses. That process will take at least six months - usually longer - because it's more extensive, officials said. Applicants must be residents of Virginia or convicted of a felony in a Virginia, federal or military court. All costs, fines and restitution associated with their cases must be paid and individuals must have completed a three-year waiting period after the end of their sentence or release from probation. They also can't have a drunken-driving conviction in the past five years. "You don't have a say in anything," said Roderick Hart of Richmond who has been off probation since 2002. "You have no say whatsoever. ... But one vote can make a difference." National: Federal Reform Bill Gets Support Before its Introduction The West Virginia Gazette editorial board supports the Democracy Restoration Act of 2008 - a bill soon to be introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) - which would restore federal voting rights to all citizens released from prison and living in local communities. In its editorial, the Gazette stated, "this election year, with politics dominating the news, would be a good time to reform the way prisoners are treated. It would [be] a big step to stop discriminating against outcasts by letting them rejoin democracy." The editorial further discussed the rippling effects of disenfranchising citizens charged with felony offenses. Erika Wood, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, was quoted in the editorial as saying "disenfranchising the head of a household can discourage his or her entire family from civic participation." Alabama: Rev. Kenneth Glasgow Honored for Restoration Work The Rev. Kenneth Glasgow was honored by the Alabama Democratic Conference during its annual convention in Montgomery last week. The Rev. Glasgow, Director of The Ordinary People Society, located in Dothan, received the Lyndon Baines Johnson Political Freedom Award for his vote restoration work with formerly incarcerated citizens. Upon receiving the award, the Rev. Glasgow presented more than 10,000 completed voter registration applications that were collected by his T.O.P.S./Prodigal Child Project. - - - - - - 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 5/22/08

Virginia: Cumbersome, 'Horrible,' and in Need of Reform In the Commonwealth of Virginia, where individuals with felony convictions are permanently banned from voting, several organizations are making an effort to educate and motivate eligible citizens to muster the arduous restoration process that requires action by the governor. According to Sheri Iachetta, Charlottesville's general registrar, the restoration request process is time consuming and she even called the forms "horrible." The application for persons convicted of non-violent offenses is two pages; the application for those convicted of violent offenses is 12 pages. After waiting five years after all court obligations have been completed, a person convicted of a violent felony must obtain a burdensome collection of paperwork including: - a letter from most recent probation or parole officer - copies of pre- or post-sentence report - certified copies of every order of conviction and sentencing orders - three letters of reference - a personal letter to the governor explaining convictions and how life has changed "It's really a daunting procedure," Iachetta admitted to the C-Ville Weekly. The Virginia Organizing Project is planning to have 50 interns knock on 300,000 doors to hand out restoration applications in order to get people registered by the October 6 deadline and vote in November. The Virginia League of Women Voters is also dedicating its mission to vote restoration. Kentucky: Left Out of History - Again As Kentuckians hit the polls this week, many residents were unable to make their mark on history. Due to the Commonwealth's harsh felon disenfranchisement laws, citizens with felony convictions are permanently barred from voting - an "immense" impact on the state's electorate, according to Facing South. One out of every 17 Kentucky citizens is barred from voting and one out of every four African-American citizens in Kentucky is unable to vote. Of those barred, about 70% have completed their sentence. - - - - - - 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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