Mar 01, 2021
Progressive lawmakers vowed on Tuesday to keep fighting after 119 House Democrats joined all of their Republican colleagues in defeating an amendment to an election reform bill that would have restored voting rights to incarcerated Americans.
"We will never end mass incarceration until we start treating all of our nation's people like human beings, and the right to vote is a key component of recognizing that humanity."
--Udi Ofer, ACLU
The House voted 328-97 against the amendment by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) to H.R. 1, the For the People Act--a sweeping reform bill that if passed would expand voting rights, limit partisan gerrymandering, take on the power of so-called "dark money," establish new ethics rules for federal elected officials, and more.
The same cannot be said of the Bush amendment. While Biden said during the 2020 presidential campaign that he supports restoring voting rights to former felons, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was alone among last year's Democratic presidential candidates in supporting voting rights for incarcerated people. He hails from one of only two states--Vermont and Maine--plus the District of Columbia, where prisoners can vote.
Bush noted the historic nature of her amendment. "For the first time ever, the House took a vote on whether or not to end the cruelty of denying incarcerated people their right to vote," she tweeted after the measure's defeat. "Our amendment didn't pass, but 97 Democrats voted with us. We will not stop fighting until we dismantle white supremacy in all of its forms."
\u201cToday, @RepMondaire and I brought legislation to the Floor that would restore the right to vote to people who are incarcerated\u2014a cruel Jim Crow era relic that needs to be abolished.\n\n97 Democrats stood up for our community members who are incarcerated. We will keep up this fight.\u201d— Congresswoman Cori Bush (@Congresswoman Cori Bush) 1614722716
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), one of the 97 lawmakers who voted for the amendment, noted the historic, racist roots of felon disenfranchisement.
\u201cToday, I went to the floor in support @RepCori Bush's amendment to HR 1 #ForThePeople Act to restore voting rights to incarcerated individuals. Voting rights must be extended to ALL people - and yes, that includes currently and formerly incarcerated individuals.\u201d— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) 1614707558
\u201cIt was done with intent - to disenfranchise them from their most sacred right: to choose the people and policies that govern them. We cannot deny the humanity of the incarcerated. We cannot strip communities of their voice, their power and their humanity.\u201d— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib) 1614707558
Civil and voting rights advocates voiced their support for the Bush amendment. Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU's Justice Division, noted the impact of felon disenfranchisement laws on Black Americans.
"More than 15% of the Black population Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming were legally barred from voting under these laws in 2020," he tweeted. "This is what we mean when we say that mass incarceration is the New Jim Crow. We will never end mass incarceration until we start treating all of our nation's people like human beings, and the right to vote is a key component of recognizing that humanity."
"No American should be denied the right to vote," added Ofer. "Doing so is equivalent of denying their humanity. Cori Bush heroically tried to add this provision to H.R. 1. Her own party failed her. We still have so much to teach Democrats."
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