Congress Considers Restoring Voting Rights of Ex-Felons

Once their debt to society has been paid, should former prisoners be allowed to vote?

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With so much confusion over state laws, many are turned away from participating in the society it is said they were eligible to re-enter. Adam Serwer of The American Prospect explores what steps are being taken to rectify this. Below is an excerpt

Different states have different requirements for re-enfranchising ex-felons. Maine and Vermont allow their imprisoned populations to vote. Some states restore voting rights at the moment of release, and some do it after parole or probation. Other states do not restore voting rights to those who have committed certain types of crimes or after more than one conviction. Virginia and Kentucky permanently disenfranchise the formerly incarcerated, except in cases of executive clemency.

Congress is currently considering the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore federal voting rights to formerly incarcerated people upon release. The bill, which is based on recommendations from a 2008 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, would also require states to notify individuals of their right to vote as soon as they have completed their sentences and ensure that people on probation never lose their right to vote. The bill's proponents argue that it would get rid of the confusion surrounding the voting-restoration process. In New York, a third of local election boards required formerly incarcerated people who wanted to register to vote to offer "improper documentation," including, in some cases, documents the state doesn't actually produce. Nearly a third of Ohio's election workers incorrectly believed people with misdemeanor convictions couldn't vote.

Felony disenfranchisement laws also disproportionately affect African Americans, because African Americans form a disproportionately large part of people convicted of crimes. Though only 13 percent of monthly drug users are black, they make up 56 percent of drug convictions. Eight percent of black Americans are disenfranchised because of prior convictions; 13 percent of black men are ineligible to vote, more than seven times the national average.

Continue reading from the SOURCE: THE AMERICAN PROSPECT

What's your take? Should ex-felons be allowed to vote once they have been released from prison?