Since 1997, 19 states have amended felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility, according to a report released today by The Sentencing Project. 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.
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- Nine states either repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws.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- Maryland repealed its post-sentence voting ban in 2007, restoring the right to vote to 52,000 residents.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 to restore federal voting rights to all citizens released from prison and living in the community.