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Congress Seeks to Restore Voting Rights for Persons with Felony Convictions

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4/10/14

Today, Members of Congress, led by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Representative John Conyers (D-MI-13), introduced the Democracy Restoration Act of 2014, S. 2235 and H.R. 4459. The bill would restore voting rights in federal elections to those who have lost their voting rights as a collateral consequence of a felony conviction.

The disenfranchisement of persons with felony convictions represents a stain on our democracy. Nationwide, more than 6 million Americans who have been convicted of a felony are denied access to the one fundamental right that is the foundation of all other rights.

The over-incarceration of communities of color means that the denial of voting rights to persons with felony convictions disproportionately affects African Americans. One in 13 African Americans cannot vote due to disenfranchisement policies. A staggering 13% of all African-American males in the country are denied the right to vote. In Alabamathe birthplace of the voting rights movementone in three African-American males have been disqualified from voting as a result of a felony conviction. Given current incarceration rates, one in three of the next of generation of African-American men will be disenfranchised at some point in their lifetime.

As Attorney General Eric Holder recently noted, [felon disenfranchisement] laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War repression. And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear.”

LDF is a leading voice in the struggle to free the vote for people with criminal convictions, widely recognized as the frontier for the expansion of voting rights. LDF has litigated several challenges to discriminatory state laws that disproportionately deny voting rights to people of color with felony convictions, including in Alabama, New York and Washington State. For more on the impact of felon disenfranchisement on African Americans, see LDF’s Free The Vote.

The Democracy Restoration Act of 2014 seeks to address disparities in state felon disenfranchisement laws by enacting a nationwide standard for the restoration of voting rights in federal elections to the 4.4 million Americans now reintegrated into society. Importantly, the bill ensures that individuals with felony convictions know of their right to vote by requiring states and the federal government to provide to them written notification of their right to register and vote in a federal election.

LDF strongly encourages Congress to pass the Democracy Act of 2014. Leslie Proll, Director of LDF’s Washington office, stated: “If our core value of democracy is to be fully realized, the millions of citizens who have lost their right to vote due to a felony conviction must once again be able to exercise that most fundamental right—the right to vote.”