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Disenfranchisement News: Nevada & Colorado restore voting rights to people on community supervision

July 01, 2019
Nevada and Colorado expand voting rights to people on community supervision, civil rights groups sue Florida over new "poll tax" law, and more news in our 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.

Nevada expands voting rights to people on probation and parole

Governor Steve Sisolak recently signed legislation that automatically expands voting rights to people on probation and parole—re-enfranchising some 77,000 Nevadans. Previously, Nevada law prohibited people from voting on probation, parole, and post-sentence except for those convicted of first time non-violent offenses. Individuals convicted of certain “category B” crimes (offenses that carry a minimum of 1 year to a maximum of 20 years in prison) were required to wait two-years before they could have their voting rights restored. 

“I firmly believe that we should be doing everything we can to expand access to the ballot box, not restrict it,” Gov. Sisolak said before signing the bill. “This also includes people who have paid their debts to society after committing a crime. Not only is restoring their right to vote the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.” The law went into effect July 1, 2019.

Colorado lawmakers expand voting rights to people on parole

In May, Governor Jared Polis signed a measure expanding voting rights to individuals on parole. The bill also requiresthe Department of Corrections to notify people on parole of their voting rights, and how to register to vote and obtain voter information materials. The measure is expected to “increase the total number individuals eligible to register to vote by approximately 10,000 per year.”

Civil rights groups sue Florida over new “poll tax” law

Governor Ron Desantis signed a controversial measure requiring people with felony convictions to pay all court-ordered restitution, fines and fees before they are allowed to vote. In response, the National ACLU, ACLU of Florida, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Brennan Center for Justice filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming SB 7066 is an unconstitutional “poll tax” that undermines the intent of Florida voters when they overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4.

“There’s no rational basis for treating somebody who can afford to pay fees any differently than treating anybody who can’t afford to pay them,” said Julie Ebenstein, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “That’s just distinguishing people’s right to vote based on their wealth.”

The new law means Florida’s rights restoration process continues to be overly complicated and racially discriminatory. There is no state or local agency that tracks Florida’s system of fines, fees and restitution, and lawmakers estimate it will cost millions to create a new system. The measure does allow individuals to have their financial obligations waived if victims give their approval or if the individual petitions a judge to have their fees waived or converted into community service hours. However, the process for petitioning a judge was not laid out in the bill. For example, it’s unclear whether an individual would need a lawyer to petition the judge.

“This law will disproportionately impact black Floridians with a felony conviction, who face the intersecting barriers of accessing jobs in a state with long-standing wealth and employment disparities,” said Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Because the Florida Legislature ignored these well-understood realities, SB 7066 must be stopped.”

Legislation introduced to end felony disenfranchisement

With the support of the majority of the D.C. Council, Councilmember Robert C. White Jr. introduced legislation to end felony disenfranchisement and restore voting rights to people in prison. Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow people in prison to vote. Incarcerated people “don’t lose their citizenship when they are incarcerated, so they shouldn’t lose their right to vote,” said Councilmember White.

Washington, D.C. is unique because people convicted of crimes serve their sentences in federal facilities around the country. “D.C. people are already disenfranchised and separated from their fellow residents and citizens, so it’s important that they have a chance to practice citizenship,” said Ronald L. Moten, an activist for anti-violence causes and returning citizens in the District. “We forget all about what they need when they come home from prison because they are not here. If you knew that their vote counted, that would be a whole different ballgame.”

The Sentencing Project’s Nicole Porter joined Councilmember White and DC advocates at a press conference introducing the bill. “The Sentencing Project has tracked since 1997 that 23 states have amended their laws and expanded the franchise to people who are either returning or people who are criminal justice involved,” said Porter. “Restore the Vote Amendment DC is an opportunity to build on that current momentum and expand the vote to people who should have never lost their vote to begin with—our brothers and sisters in prison.”

 
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