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Voting Rights of Ex-Offenders under Review

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By Kamika Dunlap on March 23, 2010 6:55 AM

Congress held hearings recently to review the voting rights of ex-offenders. The Democracy Restoration Act is a new bill proposed that would allow released ex-felons to vote in federal elections.

According to the New York Times, the bill would reverse laws dating back to the post-Civil War era which mainly were used to prevent slaves from voting and restore ex-offenders the right to vote.

At issue is whether the bill represents an unconstitutional intrusion into the rights of the states, since voting rights are set by state law.

The bill is sponsored by several members of the Congressional Black Caucus who argue that state disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities.

As previously discussed, a report Jim Crow in New York looks at the impacts of the state's criminal disenfranchisement law. The report cites this targeted criminalization, along with the disenfranchisement of those convicted of felonies, with suppression of African-American political power for decades.

As a result, almost 80% of those who have lost their voting rights under New York's law are African-American or Hispanic.

Kentucky and Virginia are the only states that permanently take away the right to vote from people convicted of felonies.

Many of the bill's supporters say disenfranchisement laws make it harder for ex-offenders to turn their lives around. In addition, it is unfair to single them out after they have already paid their debt to society.

The debate around whether Congress should step in and give ex-offenders the right to vote continues to heat up.

We will keep an eye on this hot topic as the Democracy Restoration Act makes its way through the various subcommittees.

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