Oregon Lawmakers Consider Universal Suffrage
Oregon lawmakers are considering legislation — HB 2366 and SB 571 — to expand voting eligibility to the nearly 13,000 people in Oregon prisons; the change would disproportionately impact the state’s Black population.
The Sentencing Project offered testimony before Oregon’s House Rules Committee providing an overview of felony disenfranchisement and specifically addressing public safety concerns. Felony disenfranchisement policies do not deter crime since people are not aware they lose voting rights at sentencing given the inconsistency of laws from state to state. Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia also considered universal suffrage bills in 2021.
Virginia Governor Expands Voting Rights to Over 69,000 People
Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order restoring voting rights to people released from incarceration (including those on community supervision), impacting over 69,000 residents. The order also streamlines the application process and eliminates the waiting period and payment of outstanding court costs and fees prior to restoration.
Virginia’s constitution permanently bars people with felony convictions from voting for life. Gov Northam’s order is in line with a recent constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly that would restore civil rights to all individuals post incarceration. In order to take effect, the amendment must pass the General Assembly again in 2022 before going to a voter referendum.
Other State Efforts to Expand Voting Rights
The Sentencing Project worked closely with state coalitions in Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota and Texas to expand voting rights to citizens with felony convictions. We developed a series of briefing papers highlighting each state’s voter exclusion policies and the laws’ impact on citizens with criminal legal involvement. The publication series described:
- Advocates working to expand voting rights to 11,000 Connecticut citizens
- Over 145,000 Black Georgians are currently denied the vote
- In Minnesota, nearly 65,000 citizens are denied the right to vote
- The number of Texans denied voting rights due to a felony conviction is larger than the disenfranchised populations of 48 states
Federal Advocacy to Expand Voting Rights
In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed comprehensive election reform legislation that includes the Democracy Restoration Act, a provision that would restore federal voting rights to returning citizens. While the legislation faces significant hurdles in the U.S. Senate, The Sentencing Project is working in coalition with national civil rights organizations, people with direct experience with disenfranchisement and lawmakers to secure bipartisan support for the proposal.
In March, The Sentencing Project met with the administration to influence implementation of President Biden’s recent Executive Order to expand voting access to people in federal prisons eligible to vote, including 4,000 newly enfranchised District of Columbia residents.
Efforts to Increase Access to Jail-Based Voting
In the months leading up to the November 2020 General Election, additional support and technical assistance from The Sentencing Project resulted in increased capacity to members of a new national jail-based voting coalition. We convened local advocates from states, including Texas, California, Florida, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Georgia, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Michigan.
In Sioux Falls, South Dakota and at the Oklahoma County Jail, our assistance led to the first-ever jail-based initiatives there. In places like Michigan’s Genesee County Jail, we helped enhance existing initiatives that resulted in an 80% voter turnout among those who registered at the jail.
In 2021, advocates have shifted attention to legislation expanding enfranchisement in Massachusetts through a constitutional amendment that would require polling locations in large county jails and in Wisconsin where the Governor’s budget includes automatic voter registration and increased requirements for those on parole and probation to be notified of their right to vote.
In Texas, a statewide coalition is organizing to implement a polling location at the Harris County Jail and expect to be successful by year’s end.