Felon Voting Rights

USA Today has an article on an effort in Rhode Island to change the law that disenfranchises felons. It is always interesting to remember the statistics on felon disenfranchisement. As the article notes:

An estimated 5.3 million people cannot vote because of a felony conviction, says Ryan King, policy analyst for the Sentencing Project, a research group that favors changes in prison and sentencing rules. Thirty-six states deny that right to felons while they’re on parole, and 31 of them also bar voting by felons on probation.

King and other advocates of changing those rules say the restrictions punish people who have served their time and disproportionately affect the poor and people of color.

“In states where there’s 20% to 30% of African-Americans who are prohibited from voting, that’s a significant portion of the population not being represented by their state or federal legislators,” King says.

Some prohibitions against felons voting are being eased:

• Nebraska lawmakers in March passed legislation automatically restoring voting rights to felons two years after they complete their sentences, including probation and parole. The state previously had a lifetime ban.

• Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack last year signed an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, including probation or parole, or received early release.

• Coalitions of former inmates, faith-based organizations and civil rights groups are registering voters and lobbying election officials and lawmakers in Rhode Island, Kentucky and other states.

The article also has a nice table that shows the felon enfranchisement laws in all 50 states. One of the recommendations that the National Commission on Federal Election Reform made was to liberalize the rules for the re-enfranchisement of felons. Ironically, the commissioner who proposed this recommendation was one of the more conservative members but one who came to think that it was very important to allow people who have paid their debt to society become part of civic life.