Even as Republicans try to tighten voting rules, Democrats are now pushing to expand criminal voting rights. The states of New York, Washington, and Virginia all made legislative or executive action giving felons an easier time to vote.
Battle for Voting Legislation
Republican-controlled statehouses across the US have filed numerous bills and issued executive orders designed to tighten voting rules in states. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, GOP lawmakers filed 361 bills in 47 states that aimed to tighten voting rules.
Meanwhile, Democrats are now pushing to include more people as voters. This time, previously incarcerated Americans take the spotlight.
Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRCC), said the conversation goes beyond the political. “This is more important than red or blue. This is about humanity, he said. Volz added: “This is about how we see our democracies, and whether we believe that every voice matters.”
Criminal Voting Rights
All states in the US do not permanently ban felons from voting. In particular, the debate centers on how long should a convicted criminal wait after release from prison to vote again.
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Surprisingly, the movement to give ex-convicts the right to vote is more bipartisan than you think. A poll from the Pew Research Center said that 70% of Americans favor allowing convicted felons to vote after serving their sentences. Broken down into party affiliation, 84% of Democrats approve of the measure, and so did 55% of Republicans.
Advocates argued that most people affected by felony disenfranchisement come from communities of color. In fact, New York Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell (D) thinks racism played a part.
“The history of this is very much connected to Jim Crow and racism. And sadly, our nation has a deep and long history about choosing who gets to vote as a mechanism to keep some people down,” he said
O’Donnell earlier sponsored legislation that expanded voting rights to previously incarcerated felons. “And you look at the population within our prison system.
You can see why that would be,” he said. Consequently, O’Donnell’s legislation in New York, plus a similar one in Washington state passed. They both granted felons the right to vote immediately upon release from prison. In addition, it doesn’t matter if the felons remained on parole or probation.
Breaking Through The Stigma Of Incarceration
State Representative Tara Simmons (D) sponsored the Washington legislation. She attributed the idea of the bill to her own experience as a convicted felon.
“I know the feeling of being stigmatized against or being excluded from different parts of our society. It’s a personal priority for me to continue to break through that stigma, and to continue to fight for racial equity knowing, you know how these policies disproportionately impact people of color,” Simmons said.
In addition, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) recently signed an executive order restoring voting rights to nearly 70,000 felons in the state who completed their prison terms.
“Probationary periods can last for years. But that’s also a time in which a person is living in the community, rebuilding their lives. They should be able to exercise those civil rights, even if they are still under supervision,” Northam explained.
Some States Oppose Expanded Criminal Voting Rights
Meanwhile, O’Donnell thinks that opposition to expanded criminal voting rights is a perception issue. In fact, most of the opposition facing his bill came from objections to people placed on parole.
“[The] criticism laws. Sometimes the parole board releases people who I don’t think should be released. When you look at the totality of an individual’s life, and the totality of what they’re like in prison. Those are much better indicators,” he said.
Watch the Forbes Breaking News reporting that Democrat lawmaker Rep. Charlie asks to restore voting rights to non-violent felons who served their time:
Do you agree to allow convicted criminals to vote again after their release from prison? If not, why don’t you agree?
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