Fact Sheets
Featured Video
  • National Press Club Forum: A 25-Year Vision for Criminal Justice Reform
  • Unlocking Justice: Alternatives to Prison
State Contacts
February 22, 2008

Disenfranchisement News

Tennessee: Ex-felon Disenfranchisement Laws Need to be Repealed, Panel Says
New York: State Needs to ‘Fast-track’ Voter Education
Kentucky: Students on Board to Restore Rights
Wisconsin: Restoration Leads to Integration
National: Denying the Pursuit of Happiness

Tennessee: Ex-felon Disenfranchisement Laws Need to be Repealed, Panel Says
A panel at Middle Tennessee State University advocated the repeal of state laws that ban approximately 98,000 formerly incarcerated residents from voting. The panel, which included a defense attorney, a formerly incarcerated resident and Michele Flynn, a voting rights advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union, commented on how Tennessee law appears to be discriminatory and unfair. About 40 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals in Tennessee are African American, while blacks represent only 17 percent of the state's total population, the Daily News Journal reported. Currently, state law bans those convicted of a felony with a maximum sentence of more than a year, with the possibility of reinstatement. Residents convicted of murder, some sexual offenses, treason and voting fraud permanently lose their right to vote.

New York: State Needs to ‘Fast-track’ Voter Education
New York State needs to “set the record straight on voting rights” according to an editorial published by El Diario. Thousands of formerly incarcerated citizens in the state are misinformed about their voting rights, which are restored once they have served their maximum prison sentence or been released from parole. According to a 2006 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, DEMOS and the Legal Action Center, some citizens on probation were illegally denied the right to vote. “Advocates have made several smart recommendations—including that the state’s Board of Elections launch a public awareness campaign and that the legislature restore the right to vote for all citizens on release from prison. These recommendations should be fast tracked, and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should put BOE offices on notice for any attempts to lock out voters,” the editorial states.

Kentucky: Students on Board to Restore Rights
University of Kentucky students gathered this week on campus to support Rep. Jesse Crenshaw’s (D-Lexington) efforts to pass House Bill 70, a bill that would restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people like former UK basketball player Tayna Fogle. Though the House of Representatives passed the bill last year, it failed to make it through the Senate, the Kentucky Kernel reported. The bill will again be brought up in the House this year for reconsideration. A rally and lobby day will be held in Frankfort on February 28 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Wisconsin: Restoration Leads to Integration
University of Wisconsin-Madison student Andrew Wagner wrote an opinion editorial in the student publication, The Badger-Herald, on the need for the state to change its disenfranchisement laws. Wagner supports Rep. Joe Parisi’s (D-Madison) recently introduced bill that would restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals who have completed their prison sentence and are on probation or parole. “Give released felons a stake in society rather than pushing them to the margins,” he stated. “While these felons are still under sentence when they are on probation or parole, the reintegration process should start as early as possible once they leave prison.”

National: Denying the Pursuit of Happiness
Senator Russ Feingold (WI) and 1996 Republican candidate for the vice presidency Jack Kemp co-wrote an opinion editorial published in the Baltimore Sun on their efforts to introduce the federal Democracy Restoration Act allowing those on probation or parole, or individuals who have served their sentences, to be able to vote in federal elections. “ … Even as voting restoration grows, we have a long way to go. For a nation that depends on the participation of its citizens, it is fundamentally un-American to deny the vote to people who are living and working as law-abiding citizens,” they wrote. “Furthermore, the more doors we close on people trying to rejoin society, the more likely it is we will drive them back to the behaviors we want them to leave behind. Later this year, Americans will determine the next president of the United States. But millions remain disenfranchised because of a dangerous anachronism: civil death.”

An opinion editorial featured on Helium.com holds the position that individuals with felony convictions should have all rights restored in order to reduce recidivism and boost the nation’s economy. The writer states: “If we are going to continue to deny ex-felons their rights even after they have served their term then we need to take the word-"ex" out of ex-felon. If we are going to continue to deny their right to the pursuit of happiness then we can just call them all felons and convict them to a life of despair.”

A contributor to the State Hornet newspaper, a student publication of the California State University, Sacramento, wrote an opinion editorial on his experience as a formerly incarcerated person gaining back his voting rights – and how others like him in other states are not so lucky. “ … Most are led to believe that their right to vote has been taken away, or the process to get it back is too extensive,” Galen Kusic wrote. “This must change. If you are a citizen in this country, ex-con or not, the government should grant you the right to vote. Period.”

Issue Area(s): Felony Disenfranchisement
State(s): Wisconsin, Tennessee, New York, Kentucky