Felony Disenfranchisement

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The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News/Updates 5/15/08

National: Association of Paroling Authorities International Supports Re-enfranchisement The Association of Paroling Authorities International recently voted to approve a resolution to restore voting rights to individuals after release from prison. The resolution states: "Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Association of Paroling Authorities International supports the restoration of voting rights for offenders reentering the community and encourages the participation of paroling authorities in the passage and implementation of laws that engage former offenders in the civic discourse." The APAI is an international membership organization composed of criminal justice professionals dedicated to maintaining responsible parole practices. - - - - - - 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 5/8/08

National: 'What If' Disenfranchisement was No More? Erika Wood, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, published "What if 5.3 Million More Americans Could Vote?," an opinion editorial featured on AlterNet. Listing the collateral consequences of disenfranchisement, Wood emphasized the Jim Crow roots of barring voters and the ongoing disproportionate impact of felony disenfranchisement laws on people of color. She also described the "ripple effect" caused by disenfranchisement. "Felony disenfranchisement laws do not only impact those who lose their voting rights," Wood writes. "Entire communities lose their political capital when their citizens cannot vote. Denying the vote to one person has a ripple effect, dramatically decreasing the political power of urban and minority communities." Despite setbacks in some states, there are reform efforts in Congress, she reported. Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. John Conyers are expected to soon introduce the Democracy Restoration Act, a bill that seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to all Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community. "The promise of our democracy will never be realized if 4 million Americans remain disenfranchised. It is time to end this last blanket barrier to the ballot box," Wood concluded. Tennessee: Arrest for Voting Further Disenfranchises Woman Carla Thomas Smith was arrested last month for registering to vote and casting ballots in November 2004 and November 2006, according to the Leaf Chronicle. The Tennessee resident, who was released on bond, was charged with "accessory after the fact" in 1995 - a felony conviction - which disqualified her from voting in the state. Currently, Tennessee law bans those convicted of a felony with a maximum sentence of more than a year, with the possibility of reinstatement. Those convicted of murder, some sexual offenses, treason and voting fraud permanently lose their right to vote. Further, the law disenfranchises those with felony offenses who have outstanding legal financial obligations, restitution or child support fees. Massachusetts: 'The More We Imprison, the Less We Vote' Two citizenship students at Amherst College - one on the 'inside,' the other on the 'outside,' rally for disenfranchisement reform in a co-authored opinion editorial published in the Boston Globe. They write: "We all write the same papers, read the same material by John Locke and Alexis de Tocqueville, and are all equally engaged in debating and discussing everything from the role of the good citizen to America's role in the world. There is no reason to think inmates are uniquely unqualified to wield a vote, and no reason to think they can't." The class, which meets at the Hampshire County Correctional Facility, combines college students with inmates at the prison. In regard to the more than 25,000 inmates in Massachusetts prisons and jails, the students state that in an effort to better integrate formerly incarcerated individuals in society, voting rights are a key component. - - - - - - 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 4/25/08

Pennsylvania: Voter Education Still Necessary on 8-year-old Reform A re-entry group focused on voter education held a class this week to teach 40 formerly incarcerated individuals about their voting rights, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Malissa Gamble, founder of A Time for Change, clarified the Commonwealth's felon voting laws. Formerly, Pennsylvania law stipulated that some individuals with felony records had to wait five years after their release before regaining the right to vote. In 2000, civil rights groups challenged the law and the restriction was ended. Organizers believe that many ex-offenders in the Commonwealth don't know they are able to vote. North Carolina: "Proud to Vote" In its election coverage, the Fayetteville Observer interviewed a formerly incarcerated 25-year-old who voted for the first time. Wearing a "Proud to Vote" sticker at the polls, Tyrone Jenkins said of the experience: "It empowers you a lot. You feel like you got a little say in what's going on." Virginia: Legislators, Community Gather to Discuss Right to Vote A panel of Virginian legislators, clergy and formerly incarcerated individuals addressed disenfranchisement this week. "The governor is committed to restoring these rights" and already has done so for 1,340 people so far," said Rev. Adam J. Richardson, bishop of the Second Episcopal District. Nearly 380,000 are disenfranchised in Virginia. The Commonwealth has among the harshest laws nationwide, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, and those with felony offenses automatically lose the right to vote. To apply for restoration of rights, those with non-violent offenses must satisfy all court obligations and wait three years before asking the governor for restoration. Others must wait five years to apply. National: Disenfranchisement Reform in Need of More Advocacy Georgetown University freshman Julia Lovett expressed support for felon voting rights in the student publication, The Hoya. Advocacy is needed in an effort to reform voting rights laws and educate individuals about the many under-publicized and confusing laws that do, in fact, grant voting rights in some states. "Without an outlet for civic participation, felons are cast to the fringes of society," Lovett writes. "Democratic rights are a necessary bridge of reintroduction to and rehabilitation within society, fostering a sense of inclusion and responsibility for an individual's community. These ties help counter alienation that encourages crime or repeat offenses." - - - - - - 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 4/18/08

Oregon: State Diminishes 'More Liberal than Most' In March, a law was passed further disenfranchising Oregon residents. Thousands of individuals in Oregon's county jails are now ineligible to vote due to a new provision of House Bill 3638. Oregon law does not allow those incarcerated individuals to vote, but does restore voting rights to those on probation. "Previously, it was just individuals in the Department of Corrections" who couldn't vote, said Brenda Bayes, the deputy director of the state Elections Division in a Statesman Journal article. "This bill in the 2008 legislative session expanded that to also include felons in the custody of county jails. You can still register to vote, you just can't vote while you're incarcerated." According to the article, 35,000 formerly incarcerated individuals and probationers are allowed to vote, in addition to about 600 psychiatric and forensic patients at Oregon State Hospital who were charged with felony offenses. National: Thousands Forced to Leave Voting Rights by the Wayside PBS's News Hour dedicated a segment to disenfranchisement in its "Vote 2008: The Primaries" coverage. Interviews with disenfranchised citizens and individuals whose rights have recently been restored, delved into the emotional, political and legal issues surrounding felon voting rights. "People participate in the voting process when they feel like they are one of the stakeholders," said New Jersey resident Omar Shabazz who is on lifetime parole. Individuals on parole in New Jersey are banned from voting.. "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. "That relative political power is taken away from the neighbors of persons who come back home, from their family members. Their relative collective voting strength is wiped off the map almost." - - - - - - 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 4/10/08

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project] National: Proposal for Automatic Post Incarceration Voting Rights Restoration The Brennan Center for Justice has released "Restoring the Right to Vote," which presents a rationale for the automatic restoration of voting rights for all individuals upon release from prison. The Center recommends that the 35 states that disenfranchise persons who are not currently incarcerated adopt the following vote restoration policies: - Automatically restore voting rights upon release from prison; - Ensure that criminal defendants receive notice of their loss of voting rights prior to their court proceedings as well as at the time of release; - Assist eligible voters with registration; - Synchronize statewide voter registration databases; and - Educate eligible voters. Author Erika Wood, the Deputy Director of the Democracy Program, writes: "When we ask people leaving prison to accept responsibility for reintegrating themselves fully into society, we cannot simultaneously continue to treat them as second-class citizens. With the obligation to obey the law should come the opportunity to influence the political process." Wisconsin: Coalition Forms to Restore the Vote Last week, approximately 40,000 Wisconsin residents were kept from the polls because of a state law that disenfranchises individuals with felony offenses. In an effort to reform current law, ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation has spearheaded an effort to form a coalition that promotes voting upon release. Current Wisconsin law states that felons who have been released from prison and those whose crimes were not serious enough to even warrant prison must wait their entire term of probation or parole before their right to vote is restored, the Daily Cardinal reported. "People could be rebuilding their lives for 1, 5, 10, or even 30 years and not be able to for example choose the school board member who will make critical decisions about their child's education," said Renee Crawford, Associate Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. In a recent poll, 70 percent of Milwaukee County's residents - which included Republicans and conservatives - supported the restoration of voting rights post incarceration. Andrea Kaminski, the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, said that a move to automatically restore voting rights would also ease the election administration process. "If you can walk in the door at the polling place, you are not disqualified because of a felony. This will clarify eligibility requirements for election officials, who have a lot of responsibility and pressure in a high-turnout election," she said. For more coverage, see WisPolitics.com. - - - - - - 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 4/3/08

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project] Florida: Anniversary Restoration Reveals "Pile Up" One year ago, Florida changed its disenfranchisement policy for residents with felony records, but as fall elections get closer, nearly 96,000 citizens still await eligibility notice of rights restoration from the clemency board, according to the Wall Street Journal. Reporting on Florida's backlog of restoration requests, the Journal stated, "The fate of these votes is especially sensitive in Florida, where George W. Bush claimed the presidency by a mere 537 votes in 2000." Last April, the executive clemency board moved to restore voting rights to individuals convicted of non-violent offenses who have completed their prison term, probation and parole, and paid court fees and child support. Thus far, nearly 75,000 citizens' rights have been restored. Activists, however, say a whopping 400,000 people seeking eligibility to vote may have been rejected - with no explanation. As various churches across the state host informational sessions on the year-old change, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition rallied this week at the state Capitol to ask the Legislature to create a more efficient, paperless restoration process, the Associated Press reported. Kentucky: House Approves Disenfranchisement Amendment The Kentucky House approved a proposed constitutional amendment seeking to automatically restore the voting rights of most citizens with felony records the Associated Press reported. The bill, HB70, would allow for offenders to vote once their sentence is completed. The proposed change would not apply to those who committed such offenses as murder or a sex offense involving a minor. The bill must pass the Senate before making it onto the ballot for voters to ultimately decide. The Courier-Journal reported that the Louisville branch of the NAACP will distribute voter registration forms and information about applying for restoration of rights to churches and businesses to increase turnout during the May 20 primary election. Branch President Raoul Cunningham said even though it's too late for formerly incarcerated individuals to have voting rights restored before the April 21 registration deadline, there is time before the November general election to do so. National: A Case to Justify Voting in Prison David Schraub wrote an opinion piece entitled, "Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Vote," for The Moderate Voice which explores, in detail, the history and philosophy behind punishment and disenfranchisement. He wrote: "Allowing prisoners to vote would not give them any more opportunity or make it any more likely that they will commit more crimes. Indeed, if anything it may make it less likely: insofar as criminal activity is positively correlated with marginalization from general social practices, integrating people into socially mainstream acts (such as civic participation) should be a bulwark against recidivism. Deterrence, too, [is] inapplicable - I have trouble imagining the prospective criminal for whom prison is not a deterrent, but loss of voting privileges is." - - - - - - 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 3/27/08

Kentucky: Easing Disenfranchisement Barriers Carl Wicklund, executive director of the American Probation and Parole Association, argues that felony disenfranchisement is not successful in attaining any law enforcement or community objectives and, in fact, prevents ex-offenders from reintegrating into society as law-abiding citizens. In an op-ed article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, he supports Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's recent easing of the onerous procedures that ex-felons were required to undergo in order to apply for restoration of their voting rights. Previously, offenders who had completed their sentences were required to pay a fee, write an essay, and submit three personal recommendations, on top of submitting a written clemency application. Despite recent steps toward equality for ex-offenders, Kentucky remains one of only two states that automatically disenfranchises all persons with previous felony convictions for life. Florida: Minority Vote Sought After, More Support for Ex-Felons' Rights Florida's Republicans are reaching out to the African-American community with proposals to reconcile the state's racist past, including addressing voting rights for ex-felons. Top Republican leaders are bolstering support for issues that have long been advocated by black legislators, with the black vote seen as an increasingly powerful vehicle in elections. Currently over 50% of the state's prisoners are African-American, reports the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Sen. Frederica Wilson of Miami, who has pushed for felons' civil rights for years, now hopes to garner enough support for a bill that would enhance employment opportunities for felons upon sentence completion, in addition to re- enfranchisement. Mississippi: Legislature Compromises, Moves toward Felony Re-enfranchisement A resolution in support of legislation that would grant voting rights to persons with felony convictions after they have completed their sentences with a two-year waiting period - except for those convicted of murder or rape - has been approved in the Mississippi Senate, reports the Clarion- Ledger. Republicans and Democrats have been in extensive dispute over clashing proposals for disenfranchisement reform and voter identification requirements, but the compromise may lead to change in both areas. - - - - - - 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 3/20/08

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project] Mississippi: Elections Chair Works for Restoration, but with Caveats Amongst a host of election legislation that could be filed, Republican Senate Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton is working to ease the process of vote restoration after prison sentences are served. The legislation, however, stipulates that individuals' rights would not be restored until two years after having completed a sentence - if they keep a clean record. Currently, the Mississippi Constitution lists 10 felonies that constitute automatic disenfranchisement, which include murder, rape and embezzlement, the Commercial Dispatch reported. In 2004, Attorney General Jim Hood issued an opinion adding 11 more felony offenses to that list, including bad check writing, timber larceny and carjacking. Currently, individuals can only be re-enfranchised with the approval of the Legislature or governor. For more information, visit the Mississippi Legislature's Web site: billstatus.ls.state.ms.us. National: Legal Challenges and Overview An essay by law professor Frank Askin entitled "Felon Disenfranchisement (Or How William Rehnquist Earned his Stripes)" was published in volume 59 of the Rutgers Law Review. Making mention of the many court decisions, the root of disenfranchisement laws, and setbacks and challenges in achieving in reform in past and recent years, Askin writes: "The absence of any political consensus on the issue is in sharp contrast to the general consensus among professional criminologists and penologists that disenfranchisement serves no legitimate goals of punishment and is detrimental to the rehabilitative goals of parole and probation." National: Disenfranchisement on National Public Radio Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, was featured this month on a felon voting rights segment of National Public Radio's Weekend America. Mauer spoke on the various issues that have arisen across the country, including Rhode Island's 2006 disenfranchisement reform, recent challenges to Mississippi's voting rights policies, and the "passion" that formerly incarcerated citizens do, in fact, have for voting. "If we can get people engaged in the electoral process that's affirmation of that connection with the community," Mauer said. - - - - - - 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 - 3/14/08

Florida: Advocate "Does Right Thing," Makes Dent in Disenfranchisement Muslima Lewis, an attorney with the ACLU and director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, was profiled in a Miami Herald article which discussed her role in reforming Florida's voting rights policy for persons with a felony conviction. Michael Hargrett, who was formerly incarcerated and received assistance from Lewis in applying to restore his rights last March said, "[s]he's passionate about rights and ... doing the right thing. She picks up on topics no one else does, and she doesn't look down at you." Lewis, who graduated from Barnard College and Yale Law School, left corporate law for nonprofit advocacy. "A lot of people don't want to talk about racial injustices and pretend that there aren't any," Lewis said. "Folks who are living it and experiencing it know." Kentucky: Editorial Sides with Governor, Rights of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals In an editorial, the Courier-Journal called Gov. Steve Beshear's efforts to ease the voting rights restoration process for formerly incarcerated individuals "a step toward fundamental fairness." Last week the governor eliminated the requirement for three character references, an essay, and a $2 fee in order for formerly incarcerated individuals to regain the right to vote. The editorial stated that before Gov. Beshear's move, the numbers of individuals seeking vote restoration dropped from more than 600 a year to about 250 a year. "Such rules have the same kind of impact as the infamous old Jim Crow laws that were designed to keep blacks out of the voting booth," the editorial stated. It continued: "What's needed is House Bill 70, a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore most felons' right to vote. What's not needed is the mean-spirited floor amendment filed by Rep. James Comer (R-Tompkinsville). It would require that felons could have voting rights restored only if they paid the state 25 percent of the cost of their detention." Currently, 129,000 citizens are banned from voting in the commonwealth. Kentucky and Virginia are the only two states where all formerly incarcerated individuals are banned from voting unless the governor restores their civil rights. - - - - - - 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 3/10/08

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project] National: Advocate's Efforts Featured in National Press The voter education efforts of the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow in Alabama were featured in the New York Times. As founder of The Ordinary People's Society, Rev. Glasgow has spent several years working to restore voting rights for individuals with felony convictions in Alabama, where an estimated 250,000 people are prohibited from voting. If the disenfranchisement laws were reformed, "there would be a lot of difference in our legislators, our elected officials and our presidents that we've had," the Rev. Glasgow stated. "It would definitely change the political spectrum of Alabama." The article further stated that severe restrictions are imposed on formerly incarcerated citizens in the South dating back to antiquated Jim Crow laws. Alabama's Republican attorney general, Troy King, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would ban all citizens with felony offenses 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
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