FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 21, 2017
More than 7 percent of the voting-age African-American population, or over 2 million African-Americans, are disenfranchised
WASHINGTON – As the Trump Administration look for ways to legalize voter suppression through its Commission on Election Integrity, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced legislation – the Democracy Restoration Act of 2017 that would strengthen American communities by restoring voting rights to individuals after they have returned to their communities after being released from incarceration. Studies indicate that former prisoners who have voting rights restored are less likely to reoffend, and that disenfranchisement hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration into their community.
“The United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions. It’s simply wrong that state disenfranchisement laws deny citizens participation in our democracy,” said Senator Cardin. “Casting a vote is one of the most fundamental rights in a democracy and gives you a say in the future of your community. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that right is protected and should be leading an effort to remove barriers and make it easier for more people to register to vote, cast their vote, and make sure their votes are counted.”
In the United States, an estimated 6.1 million adult citizens are currently disenfranchised as a result of a criminal conviction. While 16 states and the District of Columbia already restore voting rights upon release from prison, 34 states continue to restrict the voting rights of people who are no longer incarcerated. In 10 States, a conviction can result in lifetime disenfranchisement. Several States deny the right to vote to individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors. Since March 2016, Maryland automatically restores voting rights after individuals are released from prison. The law went into effect after the legislature successfully overrode a veto from Governor Larry Hogan (R-Md.). The new law immediately restored voting rights to approximately 40,000 Marylanders.
The Democracy Restoration Act has been endorsed by a large coalition of public interest organizations, including: civil rights and reform organizations; religious and faith-based organizations; and law enforcement and criminal justice organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
“Formerly incarcerated citizens’ return from prison to work, pay taxes, raise families, and live as our friends and neighbors in our communities. Yet they lack a voice in our own government. The current system makes it extremely difficult for returning citizens to fully participate in society by perpetuating penalties that have nothing to do with their past,” said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU legislative counsel. “This bill would restore federal voting rights to over 4.7 million American citizens who are part of our communities and should not be treated as second class citizens.”
“Now more than ever, it is important that we both expand and strengthen access to the ballot box,” said Nicole M. Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel, Washington Office of The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Ensuring the restoration of voting rights to the formerly incarcerated expands the chorus of voices participating in our Democracy while simultaneously strengthening our communities and improving our election system.”
Senate co-sponsors of the Democracy Restoration Act of 2017 include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
State disenfranchisement laws have a disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities. More than 7 percent of the voting-age African-American population, or over 2 million African-Americans, are disenfranchised. Currently, 1 of every 13 African-Americans is rendered unable to vote because of felony disenfranchisement– a rate more than four times greater than non-African Americans. In four states, more than one in five African Americans is unable to vote because of prior convictions (Florida-23 percent; Kentucky-22 percent; Tennessee-21 percent; Virginia-20 percent).
Latino citizens and Native Americans are also disproportionately disenfranchised based on their disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system. In four states, Latinos were disenfranchised by a rate of more than 25 percent (California- 37 percent; New York-34 percent; Texas-30 percent; Arizona-27 percent).
“The patchwork of laws to restore the right to vote leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation in Federal elections based solely on where an individual lives, exacerbating the racial disparities inherent in our judicial system that take away the right to vote for so many minorities,” Senator Cardin added.
Section 1: Short title.
Section 2: Findings.
Section 3: Voting Rights Protected.
Section 4: Enforcement of Federal Voting Rights.
Section 5: Notification of Restoration of Voting Rights.
Section 6: Definitions.
Section 7: Relation to Other Laws.
Section 8: Restriction on Use of Federal Funds.
Section 9: Effective Date.