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Honoring April as Second Chance Month gives us an opportunity to check in on developments in voting rights and expanding the franchise to incarcerated voters. Minnesota and New Mexico adopted measures to expand the vote to persons after incarceration. Last year, over 4.6 million Americans were ineligible to vote due to laws that prevent voting for certain justice impacted residents.
Restoring the Vote
During 2023, lawmakers in at least fifteen states introduced bills to expand voting rights for justice impacted voters. In April, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the New Mexico Voting Rights Act into law. This historic legislation, among other pro-democracy reforms, automatically restores voting rights to over 11,000 citizens who are completing their felony sentence on probation or parole. Earlier this year, Minnesota lawmakers enacted the Restore the Vote Act to automatically expand voting rights to over 46,000 Minnesotans who are either on probation or parole.
The Sentencing Project worked with national and state movement partners to support the Minnesota and New Mexico reforms. Nicole D. Porter, Senior Director of Advocacy, joined directly impacted partners with OLÉ New Mexico to support rights restoration. The Sentencing Project staff also joined state partners on the ground this year to advance voting rights in Kentucky and Nebraska and other states. More than fourteen states introduced measures to expand voting rights.
Unlikely Allies Support Expanding the Vote
Advocacy coalitions have worked to build momentum for various voting rights bills to emphasize a diverse coalition of support. The American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) adopted a resolution supporting voting rights for persons after incarceration. APPA leadership has supported rights restoration efforts in Nebraska and other states.
In Minnesota, a coalition of crime survivors supported the Restore the Vote Act. The coalition included the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Violence Free Minnesota, MN Children’s Alliance, Mending the Sacred Hoop and the Minnesota Alliance on Crime. Together, the groups represent over 200 programs serving more than 68,000 victims and survivors of violence.
Research to Expand the Vote
The Sentencing Project released a new research brief summarizing the benefits of restoring voting rights for all Americans who have been convicted of a felony, whether they are inside or outside of prison. Research evidence shows that having the right to vote and the act of voting is related to increasing public safety. For individuals with a criminal history, having one’s right to vote restored as well as the act of voting was related to reduced recidivism.
Research also finds that having the right to vote shapes justice-impacted individuals’ community re-entry experiences. Justice-impacted individuals felt that losing their right to vote made them feel like partial citizens – as outsiders versus community members. They discussed how having the right to vote and civic participation is connected to their intentions to remain crime-free. Restoration bolstered confidence to participate in the democratic process and increased feelings that their vote mattered. The brief calls upon states to dismantle law and policies that exclude justice-impacted people from participating in our democracy.