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Disenfranchisement News: Kentucky Senate and House disagree on path to restore voting rights

April 14, 2016
Kentucky Senate and House disagree on voting rights amendment for November ballot, voting rights bills introduced in Missouri and D.C., and more in our latest Disenfranchisement News.

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Kentucky Senate and House disagree on path to restore voting rights

The Republican controlled Senate recently approved a measure that would put a voting rights amendment on the November ballot. The bill would let voters decide whether to amend the Constitution to give lawmakers the authority to decide which felonies would be eligible for voting right restoration. “(It) doesn’t restore voting rights to anyone,” said Pam Newman, member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “I’m concerned voters might not understand what exactly they are voting for.”

The House already passed a bill earlier this year that would amend the Constitution to automatically restore voting rights to certain persons with non-violent felony convictions. The House has approved similar amendments in every session since 2007.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers thinks the House bill goes too far, saying it’s important for the legislature to first be given the authority to amend the Constitution before deliberating who should have their rights restored. However, critics of the Senate bill say the legislature “should let the people vote on an amendment that does more than give Senate Republicans a chance to dither and delay.”

The Senate bill now heads to the House of Representatives.

Florida coalition continues collecting signatures for 2018 voting rights ballot

After struggling to gather enough signatures to put a voting rights measure on the 2016 ballot, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is trying again for 2018. The ballot initiative would amend the state Constitution to allow Floridians with felony convictions (except those convicted of murder and felony sexual offenses) to automatically have their voting rights restored after completing their prison, parole and probation sentence. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition says this measure could impact more than one million Floridians.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition President Desmond Meade reflects on the state’s arduous voting restoration process currently in place for people with felony convictions. A person who has completed their felony sentence must wait five or seven years before they can apply to get their rights restored. If the person gets a hearing with the Clemency Board, which only meets four times a year, they must be able to find transportation and time off work to travel to the Capitol and plead their case in front of the board. Meade, who was formerly incarcerated, was denied after going through the process years ago. He decided that rather than applying again and potentially waiting years for another hearing, he would focus on the 2018 ballot initiative.

Meade’s wife, Sheena Meade, is running for the Florida House of Representatives. “In 2008, it hurt not to be able to be a part of a historic election, but I have even more pain now because I can’t even vote for my own wife,” Meade said. “It’s un-American and totally unfair. I should have that right.”

Missouri Senator introduces bill to restore voting rights to people on probation and parole

In January, Republican Senator Rob Schaaf introduced the Missouri Restoration of Voting Rights Act to restore voting rights to people on felony probation and parole. “Probation and parole are meant to prevent citizens convicted of crimes from doing bad things, not good things, like voting,” said Senator Schaaf. An estimated 60,000 Missourians are currently on probation or parole, with 26 percent being African American, even though they represent less than 12 percent of the general population. “Not only does the current law undermine our democratic system, but it disproportionately affects African-Americans, a group that has already been the object of far too much legal discrimination.”

D.C. Councilmember introduces voting rights bill drafted by high school senior

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans recently introduced the D.C. Voting Rights Notification Act of 2016, which was inspired by School Without Walls student Nicholas Stauffer-Mason. For his senior project, Stauffer-Mason wrote a draft bill and emailed it to every member of the D.C. Council, along with his research on felony disenfranchisement. A few weeks later, the offices of Councilmembers David Grosso and Jack Evans contacted Stauffer-Mason.

The bill requires all individuals reentering society to receive written and verbal notification of their right to vote. It would also require the city to retroactively notify formerly incarcerated individuals via their last known address. Washington, D.C. automatically restores voting rights to individuals after they have completed their prison sentence; however, Stauffer-Mason highlighted to the Council that many residents are misinformed and think they have permanently lost their right to vote once they have been convicted of a felony. The bill aims to combat misinformation around voting rights and facilitate civic reintegration. Ten of the 13 Councilmembers have signed on as co-sponsors.

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