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Disenfranchisement News: Minnesota and Maryland Advance Probation and Parole Voting Legislation

March 09, 2015
The Kentucky House passes a bill to restore voting rights post-sentence, Minnesota and Maryland advance probation and parole voting legislation, and more 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.

Kentucky House passes voting rights bill

The Kentucky House of Representatives recently approved a bill to restore voting rights to people convicted of a non-violent felony offense once they have completed their parole and probation sentence. Currently, the only means by which anyone with a felony conviction can regain voting rights is to receive a pardon from the governor. House Bill 70 would affect an estimated 186,000 Kentuckians who have completed their sentence. If the Senate approves the measure, voters will decide on the constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot.

Bipartisan bill expands voting rights to people on probation and parole in Minnesota

A Senate committee passed a bipartisan bill that would allow people convicted of a felony to vote as soon as they are released from incarceration, instead of waiting until after they’ve completed their probation and parole sentence — which can take years to decades to complete.  Advocates say this bill would ease the burden for election officials and prosecutors, who have a difficult time determining who is qualified to vote. This bill would impact an estimated 47,000 Minnesotans.

Maryland lawmaker with prior arrest record champions voting rights bill

Freshman Delegate Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) is also championing a bill that would expand voting rights to people on probation and parole. According to The Washington Post, McCray, who was arrested several times in his youth, says it’s important to keep people with criminal backgrounds engaged in the democratic process so they don’t get left behind. If the measure is approved, Maryland will join the District of Columbia and 13 states that allow people on probation and parole to vote.

Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) re-introduced the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, which would restore federal voting rights for people who have completed their prison sentence for a non-violent crime. People on probation would receive the right to vote after one year. The law also requires states to work with federal prison systems to notify people who will be allowed to vote in federal elections, or face the possibility of losing federal grants.

Book: African American Disenfranchisement

In a recent book review of John E. Pinkard’s African American Felon Disenfranchisement: Case Studies in Modern Racism and Political Exclusion, Tanya Whittle writes: “Pinkard illustrates the human costs of felon political disenfranchisement by showing how it reduces life chances and opportunities for African American ex-felons and their communities and weakens democracy in general.” Pinkard concludes that felony disenfranchisement is unlawful as it contradicts U.S. democratic principles, and assures the debasement of specific segments of society, particularly African American communities.

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