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Disenfranchisement News: In Alabama, thousands more to regain voting rights

June 06, 2017
Alabama defines which convictions will result in loss of voting rights, Nebraska fails to remove two-year waiting period on voting, and more in the latest Disenfranchisement News.

Disenfranchisement News is a monthly electronic newsletter produced by The Sentencing Project. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.


New law allows more Alabamians with felony convictions to vote

Governor Kay Ivey recently signed the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, which could restore voting rights to thousands of Alabamians with felony records. Previously, Alabama law stripped people of their right to vote if they committed a “felony involving moral turpitude,” but the state never provided a definitive list of such felonies. Thus, the decision of who was allowed to vote varied from county to county and was essentially left up to the local registrars. The new law establishes a list of less than 50 crimes of moral turpitude and notably excludes low-level drug offenses like possession—the most common felony conviction in the state.

According to the New York Times Editorial Board, this law is a step in the right direction but still far from ideal. There is no plan for informing previously ineligible voters that they may now be able to vote. And more importantly, “there’s neither sound logic nor evidence to support the disenfranchisement of anyone with a criminal conviction. To the contrary, evidence suggests that keeping prisoners connected to their civic responsibilities makes it easier for them to rejoin society,” writes the Editorial Board.

Nebraska legislature fails to override governor’s veto of voting rights bill

The Legislature failed to override Governor Pete Ricketts’ veto of a bill that would have restored voting rights to people with felony convictions as soon as they have completed 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. The Legislature fell short of the 30 votes needed to override the governor’s veto with a 23-23 vote.

Gov. Ricketts said he vetoed the bill because it was unconstitutional, arguing that the Constitution must first be amended before voting rights can be restored. “While the legislature may restore certain privileges, such as driving privileges, to convicted felons, the legislature may not circumvent the Nebraska Constitution to automatically restore a voting right in state law.”

“I am shocked that in 2017 we are still fighting for basic fundamental rights such as voting,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, after the governor’s veto. “I cannot accept that this overtly political action could succeed in suppressing the voices of many who have made a mistake, want to return to their homes and contribute to their communities by getting jobs and paying taxes.”

Samantha Bee takes on Florida’s harsh felony disenfranchisement laws

Comedian Samantha Bee criticized Florida’s lifetime ban on voting for people with felony convictions and the state’s overly complicated process to restore voting rights on her TBS show, Full Frontal. Bee sat down with Desmond Meade and Neil Volz (a Republican) of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, a group that is collecting 700,000 signatures to put a voting rights referendum on the 2018 ballot. The ballot measure would automatically restore voting rights to most individuals upon completion of their prison, probation or parole sentence. Meade and Volz emphasized that this is not a political issue and the state’s harsh laws impact individuals across the political spectrum. While the original version of the law was created in the 19th century to target African Americans and does disproportionately impact black people, it also affects over a million non-black residents.

You can watch the segments below:

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights holds hearing on collateral consequences

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently held a hearing to address the significant hurdles people with felony convictions face when they reenter society. The hearing explored a range of issues including: long-lasting effects of incarceration, recidivism, and racial disparities; barriers to voting and jury participation; and barriers to public housing, employment, public benefits and other basic needs after incarceration.

In his testimony, Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project’s described the troubling impact felony disenfranchisement policies have on individuals with felony convictions and our democracy as a whole. “Felony disenfranchisement policies run counter to public safety objectives by creating a group of second-class citizens,” said Mauer. “In order for people to successfully transition home from prison they need to establish or renew connections with the world of work, family, peer groups, and the broader community. Participation in the electoral process is one means by which citizens can affirm their connection to the broader community and play a constructive role in public policy debates.”

 

 
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