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Disenfranchisement News: Felony Disenfranchisement and the Midterm Elections

October 17, 2018
More than 6 million people are ineligible to vote in the midterm elections in November 2018 because of a felony conviction.

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


Felony Disenfranchisement and the Midterm Elections Webinar

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In recent years significant reforms in felony disenfranchisement policies have been achieved at the state level. Since 1997, 23 states have amended one or more of their felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. Despite these reforms, more than 6 million people are ineligible to vote in the midterm elections in November 2018 because of a felony conviction. Racial disparities in the criminal justice system also translate into higher rates of disenfranchisement in communities of color, resulting in one of every thirteen African American adults being ineligible to vote.

Please join leading advocates and researchers for a webinar discussing felony disenfranchisement and state reforms. The webinar is co-hosted by The Sentencing Project and Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

Presenters:
Marc Mauer – Executive Director, The Sentencing Project
Desmond Meade – President, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition
Sarah Shannon – Assistant Professor, University of Georgia
Taina Vargas-Edmond – Co-Founder, Initiate Justice

October 18, 2018
2:00 pm – 3:00pm ET
Click here to register.

U.S. extreme outlier on prison voting compared to other nations

Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is an extreme outlier when it comes to disenfranchising people with felony convictions, said Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project’s executive director. In an interview with Public Radio International, Mauer argued, “you don’t lose your fundamental rights of citizenship when you’re convicted of a felony. You can still buy or sell property, you can get married or divorced.”

The conversation also highlighted how other countries have debated and resolved the issue around felony disenfranchisement. In Israel, a 23-year-old law student, Yigal Amir, was sentenced to life in prison for the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. When the issue of stripping Amir of his voting rights was brought before the Israeli High Court, the court ruled that Amir should keep his voting rights. “In their decision, [the judges] said we must separate our contempt for his action from his rights as a citizen,” said Mauer. “It’s very instructive, I think, that the highest court in the land could come out with a decision like this about the most despised Jewish citizen of the state.”

In Canada, Rick Sauvé fought for 18 years for the right to vote in prison. “Our freedom has been taken away from us. That’s the punishment…The other fundamental rights, we maintain,” argued Sauvé. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sauvé, saying in a 5-4 vote that the government provided no pressing justification in denying a constitutional right to people in prison.

Poll shows majority of voters support Amendment 4

A survey by the University of North Florida shows 71% of voters are in favor of Amendment 4, a Florida ballot measure that would automatically restore voting rights to 1.4 million people with prior felony convictions. The measure requires 60% of the vote to pass. It has the most support among African Americans, with 82% saying they would vote yes. Among whites, 69% are in favor, along with 65% of Hispanics.

The ballot measure has put a national spotlight on Florida’s strict felony disenfranchisement laws in the lead up to the midterm election. On the HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, John Oliver criticized the state’s burdensome and arbitrary clemency process and encouraged Floridians to support the amendment. Days after the segment aired, the clemency board had their last hearing ahead of the election. The board was unusually generous, granting clemency to most of the people who showed up. They also refrained from asking applicants about whether they went to church and other irrelevant questions that were criticized on Oliver’s show.

john oliver

Legislation pre-registers individuals on parole to vote

In May, Governor John Hickenlooper signed legislation that would pre-register individuals on parole so they would automatically be able to vote upon completion of their sentence. The Voter Registration Individuals Criminal Justice Act requires parole officers to inform individuals on parole of their voting rights, and the state’s Department of Corrections must provide the Secretary of State with a monthly report of individuals released from parole so their voting status can be updated. The legislation aims to begin pre-registering individuals on parole in July 2019. “I think if we believe in a rehabilitative system of justice, we should strive for reintegration … when we have people who have paid their debt to society back on the voter roll, they have a vested interest in the community,” said Representative Hugh McKean, who supported the bill.

 
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