Lansing, Michigan – Today, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law legislation – House Bill 4983 – that would automatically register people to vote upon exiting prison. The bill will reduce confusion about who can and cannot vote given differences in state laws.
“The Sentencing Project applauds Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature for passing the first law in the nation that will require a state to register people to vote when they’re released from prison,” said Nicole D. Porter, Senior Director of Advocacy for The Sentencing Project. “Research demonstrates that taking away peoples’ right to vote due to their involvement with the criminal legal system impedes formerly incarcerated people’s ability to reintegrate into their communities. Expanding voting rights can be linked to a reduced likelihood that an individual will commit another crime. While there is more work to be done, this bill is a significant step in the right direction.”
This legislation builds on momentum to guarantee voting rights for persons with felony convictions across the country. Since 1997, 26 states and the District of Columbia have expanded voting rights to people living with felony convictions, allowing more than 2 million Americans to regain their right to vote.
Restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions is also supported by a majority of the public. Polling from Lake Research Partners found that a majority of voters (56%) would support a law guaranteeing the eligibility to vote for all citizens 18 and older, including citizens completing their sentence, both inside and outside of prison.
“Automatic voter registration is key to empowering individuals who have had their fundamental rights unjustly stripped away by the government,” said Percy Glover, of Michigan’s F.A.I.R. Voting Alliance . “Voting is a constitutional right and is not lost for Michiganders who have not been sentenced and reside in a jail and is immediately re-established for persons released from prison. The freedom to vote must be guaranteed for a fair and true democracy.”
Many of the laws linking voting rights to an individuals’ history with the criminal justice system have their roots in reconstruction-era policies which were explicitly designed to deny the right to vote to Black and Brown people, including poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and cross burnings. As a result of these outdated policies, over 4.6 million Americans with a felony conviction were disenfranchised as of 2022, disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx Americans.