NAACP Supports Voter Re-enfranchisement for Rehabilitated Felony Offenders

THE ?DEMOCRACY RESTORATION ACT? WOULD CLEAR A PATH TO ALLOW EX-FELONY OFFENDERS TO VOTE IN FEDERAL ELECTIONS ONCE THEY ARE OUT OF PRISON

The Issue:
Almost 4 million Americans, or 1 in 50 American adults, are not allowed to vote because they have been convicted of a felony, regardless of the nature or seriousness of the offense. Three fourths of these Americans are no longer in jail.  As such, 13% of African American males – 1.4 million – are prohibited from voting.

Furthermore, state laws vary when it comes to defining which felony offenses are disenfranchising offenses and in determining how and if people who are no longer incarcerated can regain their right to vote.  Thus it is possible that in some states a person can functionally lose their right to vote forever if he or she writes one bad check.  Furthermore, the process to regain one’s right to vote in any state is often difficult and cumbersome.  Most states require specific gubernatorial action, and in 16 states federal ex-felons need a presidential pardon to regain their voting rights.

The “war on drugs” has had a disproportionate impact on African Americans; between 1985 and 1995, there was a 707% increase in the number of African Americans in state prison for a drug offense, compared to a 306% increase for whites over the same period.  Thus African Americans are disproportionately losing their right to vote, and having greater difficulty in reclaiming it, even after they have paid their debt to society.

Because voting is such an integral part of being a productive member of American society, the NAACP has worked closely with other like-minded groups to develop legislation that would allow felons who are no longer incarcerated to reintegrate themselves into society and vote in federal elections.  Congressman John Conyers (MI) and Senator Russ Feingold (WI) have reintroduced the “Democracy Restoration Act” (H.R. 3335 / S. 1516) re-enfranchising ex-felony offenders once they are released from prison.  Furthermore, re-enfranchisement for rehabilitated felony offenders may be part of the continuing election reform package also to be considered later in the 111th Congress.

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