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Disenfranchisement News: Florida approves language for voting rights ballot

April 26, 2017
Voting Rights Restoration Amendment is one step closer to being placed on Florida's 2018 ballot, Nebraska legislature votes to end two-year ban on voting for people with felony convictions, and more in the latest Disenfranchisement News.

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Florida Supreme Court approves language for 2018 ballot measure to automatically restore voting rights

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously approved language for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to most individuals upon completion of their prison, probation or parole sentence. The Voting Restoration Amendment, proposed by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, excludes individuals convicted of murder or felony sex crimes. The group still needs to gather nearly 700,000 signatures before the amendment can be placed on the November 2018 ballot. Once on the ballot, the measure needs at least 60 percent of votes to pass.

According to The Sentencing Project, there are 1.7 million people disenfranchised in Florida and nearly 1.5 million have fully completed their felony sentence. The current process of rights restoration for people with non-violent felony convictions is to petition the governor, but there is a five to seven year waiting period after sentence completion before they can apply. Advocates argue that the process is too slow. “You have to wait years to apply, then you get on a waiting list and at Governor Scott’s pace, 2,000 felons in seven years [have had their rights restored], divide that into 1.7 million and figure out how many years it’s going to take to get people their voting rights back,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Florida president Mike Pheneger.

Nebraska legislature votes to end two-year ban on voting for people with felony convictions

Lawmakers voted 27-13 to restore voting rights to people with felony convictions as soon as they complete their prison, probation or parole sentence. The current law, which was adopted in 2005, reduced the state’s indefinite ban on post-sentence voting to a two-year waiting period.  According to the Omaha World-Herald, it is unclear whether Governor Pete Ricketts will veto the bill. “I hope the governor signs it and we stop disenfranchising people who we need to integrate back into the community,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. The bill would impact about 7,800 people.

Kentucky governor’s first action on restoring voting rights impacts just 24 people

Governor Matt Bevin has received over 1,100 petitions for voting rights restoration, but he recently restored voting rights to just 24 Kentuckians who had completed their felony sentence. This was Gov. Bevin’s first action on rights restoration since he took office in December 2015. Gov. Bevin did not restore any voting rights in 2016—the first time in at least two decades that a governor did not do so.

Gov. Bevin has been a vocal supporter of improving re-entry for people with felony convictions and restoring voting rights, yet he reversed his predecessor’s order to automatically restore voting rights to an estimated 100,000 people with non-violent felony convictions. “If he really wanted to help the state of Kentucky, he could have left [former] Gov. Beshear’s order in place and he could have granted every petition that crossed his plate that was non-violent,” said Tayna Fogle, an organizer with the advocacy group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

Louisiana judge rejects claim that people on probation and parole have the constitutional right to vote

State District Judge Tim Kelley reluctantly upheld a law that bans more than 70,000 people on felony probation and parole from voting. The lawsuit was filed by Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOICE) on behalf of eight individuals with felony convictions. Louisiana’s 1974 Constitution states that individuals who are “under an order of imprisonment” are prohibited from voting. Then in 1976, a law passed that specifically barred people on felony probation and parole from voting. VOTE argued that the language in the Constitution does not ban people on community supervision from voting because they are not imprisoned, and the subsequent “statute went further than allowed.” However, Judge Kelley was convinced that the law accurately reflects the intent of the framers of the 1974 Constitution.

In his ruling, Judge Kelley said it was unfair to deny hard-working, tax-paying individuals the fundamental right of citizenship. VOTE plans to appeal the ruling.

Study finds ending felony disenfranchisement laws won’t necessarily hurt Republicans

A new study by economists Tilman Klumpp of the University of Alberta, Hugo M. Mialon of Emory University, and Michael A. Williams of the research firm Competition Economics challenges the conventional wisdom that allowing people with felony convictions to vote will swing elections to Democrats and hurt Republicans. Many observers have believed that disenfranchisement reform would give Democrats an advantage since African Americans are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system and also tend to vote Democratic. The report, The Voting Rights of Ex-Felons and Election Outcomes in the United States, tested this theory using varying felony disenfranchisement laws across the country and over time.

The report focused on elections for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and found “a positive but statistically non-significant effect.” Democrats would have won additional seats in most years if people with felony convictions were allowed to vote in every state. However, Democrats would not have won “enough additional seats to change a Republican majority into a Democratic majority” in any year between 1998 and 2012.

The authors note that while restoring voting rights may not have any tangible effects on election outcomes, it does hold a great deal of importance to individuals with felony convictions. Hopefully the findings can help remove “one potential political obstacle from reforming the criminal justice system towards one that places a greater emphasis on rehabilitation,” say the authors.

 
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