Historic efforts to reform felony voting laws
Thirteen States Examining Policies; Majority Seeking to Expand Voting Rights for Ex-Felons
Congressional Hearings Held to Permit Voting in Federal Elections. New Activity Spurred by 1998 Study on Disenfranchisement Impacts
Washington, D.C - A wave of activity to reform felony voting laws for the first time in a century is revealed in a new national report by The Sentencing Project entitled "Regaining the Vote". The study outlines legislative and legal activity in thirteen states and in Congress over the past year to address the issue of whether convicted felons and ex-felons should have the right to vote.
These state and federal efforts were spurred in large part by a 1998 study by Human Rights Watch and The Sentencing Project which found that 13 percent of African American males and nearly four million Americans are disenfranchised due to felony convictions. The new report, "Regaining the Vote: An Assessment of Activity Relating to Felon Disenfranchisement Laws," uncovers these state and federal activities:
State Legislative Activity
Some States Restrict Right
Marc Mauer, Assistant Director of The Sentencing Project, stated that "The expansion of the criminal justice system over the past 25 years has created an ever-larger pool of ineligible voters. Current efforts to restore voting rights to offenders who have 'paid their debt' to society may help to bring the U.S. more in line with other democratic nations."
The report also documents the often erratic nature of the restoration process in several states. In Alabama, ex-offenders who apply for a pardon are required to provide DNA samples. In Virginia, ex-felons (both violent and nonviolent offenses) are required to wait five years before applying for a pardon, but persons convicted of a drug offense must wait seven years.
The 1998 report on disenfranchisement had found that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the total disenfranchised population of 3.9 million were not in prison. Of these, 1.4 million were ex-offenders who had completed their sentences, one million were offenders sentenced to probation, and nearly half a million were on parole.
The new report, "Regaining the Vote", is available from The Sentencing Project, 1516 P St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, (202) 628-0871, and is available on-line at www.sentencingproject.org.