WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) reintroduced H.R. 1459, the “Democracy Restoration Act of 2015.” Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) yesterday introduced its Senate companion, S. 772. The bill would create uniform federal standards for returning the voting rights of ex-offenders to vote in federal elections. The legislation could result in returning the right to vote for millions of Americans with a prior conviction who served their time and paid their debt to society.
The Democracy Restoration Act is a narrowly crafted effort to expand voting rights for people with felony convictions, while protecting state prerogatives to generally establish voting qualifications. The legislation would only apply to persons who are not in prison, and would only apply to federal elections.
|Dean of the U.S. House|
John Conyers, Jr.
According to The Sentencing Project, since 1997, 23 states have amended felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. These reforms have resulted in an estimated 800,000 citizens regaining their voting rights. Despite these reforms, over 5.8 million citizens continue to be ineligible to vote in Federal elections. More than 4 million of the disqualified voters are not in prison, but are on probation, parole, or have completed their sentence. Nearly 3 million of the disenfranchised have completed their entire sentence, including probation and parole.
“The United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions. State disenfranchisement laws deny citizens participation in our democracy and the patchwork of laws leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation in Federal elections based solely on where an individual lives, in addition to the racial disparities inherent in our judicial system,” “Congress has a responsibility to remedy these problems and enact a nationwide standard for the restoration of voting rights.”
The current patchwork of state laws creates widespread confusion among election officials throughout the country. For example, in Ohio, an erroneous interpretation of state law deprived thousands of people with felony convictions of the opportunity to register. Only federal law can conclusively resolve the ambiguities in this area plaguing our voting system.
H.R. 1459 was introduced with the support of the following original cosponsors: Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Jackson Lee (D-TX), Rep. Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Cummings (D-MD), Rep. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL), Rep. Kaptur (D-OH), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Moore (D-WI), Rep. Serrano (D-NY), Rep. Wilson (D-FL), Rep. McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Sewell (D-AL), Rep. Chu (D-CA), Rep. Richmond (D-LA), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Honda (D-CA).