The DC Council passed the Restore the Vote Amendment, authorizing voting by residents incarcerated in jail or prison with a felony conviction. The District joins just two states, Maine and Vermont, that maintain voting rights for imprisoned citizens.
The Restore the Vote Amendment was included in emergency policing and justice reform legislation. The DC Council intends to permanently authorize voting rights for all incarcerated District residents with a felony conviction in a future bill. While District residents sentenced to local code violations are imprisoned in the federal Bureau of Prisons, residents incarcerated in federal prisons are allowed to vote under the reform.
Felony disenfranchisement policies have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Black Americans of voting age are more than four times as likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one of every 13 black adults disenfranchised nationally. In total, 2.2 million Black citizens are banned from voting nationally.
Despite the United States’ long history of disenfranchising people with felony convictions, significant reforms have been achieved at the state level in recent years. Since 1997, 25 states have amended their felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. The District of Columbia is first among several jurisdictions considering expanding voting rights to imprisoned citizens. In recent years, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico and New Jersey have considered similar measures