Pressley, Welch

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) introduced the Inclusive Democracy Act

on December 6, 2023.

(Photo: Sen. Peter Welch/Facebook)

Dems Unveil Bill to Guarantee Incarcerated Citizens Right to Vote

"This bill champions inclusion and representation, which are vital for community reintegration and public safety," said one supporter.

Members of the National Voting in Prison Coalition and other advocacy groups on Wednesday welcomed the introduction of Democratic legislation that would end felony disenfranchisement in federal elections and guarantee incarcerated U.S. citizens the right to vote.

"Too often, citizens behind the wall and those with a record are wrongfully stripped of their sacred right to vote and denied the opportunity to participate in our democracy," said U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who is leading the bill with Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

Pressley stressed that "with Republicans and the Supreme Court stopping at nothing to undermine voting rights and exclude Black and brown folks from participating in our democracy, we must protect and expand access to the ballot box—including for incarcerated citizens."

"As someone whose family has been personally impacted by mass incarceration, I'm proud to partner with Sen. Welch on the Inclusive Democracy Act to ensure everyone can make their voice heard in our democracy," she added. "Momentum is growing in states across the country and Congress must follow suit by swiftly passing this crucial legislation."

The National Voting in Prison Coalition—made up of over two dozen groups including the Campaign Legal Center, Center for Popular Democracy, Common Cause, Dēmos, Stand Up America, and the Sentencing Project—said that "the Inclusive Democracy Act stands as a beacon of hope for the more than 4.6 million Americans currently disenfranchised due to criminal convictions."

"The Inclusive Democracy Act of 2023 is a long-overdue step towards fulfilling the promise of our democracy, where every American has a voice and a stake in shaping our nation's future," the coalition continued.

Some coalition members also put out their own statements of support. Common Cause's Keshia Morris Desir said that "the Inclusive Democracy Act takes significant steps to help end the racist and discriminatory practice of felony disenfranchisement that grips communities of color."

Stand Up America's Sunwoo Oh called felony disenfranchisement "a stain on American democracy" and pledged that the group's nearly 2 million members "are ready to do whatever we can to push this legislation forward at the federal level."

Nicole D. Porter of the Sentencing Project noted that "not only is expanding voting rights the morally correct thing to do—it is also effective policy: For people who have been impacted by the criminal legal system, restoring voting rights has been linked to reduced recidivism, as it helps them rehabilitate and reintegrate into civic life."

According to its sponsors, the bill would:

  • Guarantee the right to vote in federal elections for citizens who have criminal convictions;
  • Require state and federal entities to notify individuals who are convicted, incarcerated, on probation, or on parole of their right to vote in federal elections;
  • Outline the process for citizens in carceral settings to register to vote by mail, if registration is required by their state;
  • Outline the process for citizens in carceral settings to vote by mail, including protecting and prioritizing election mail, curing ballots with mistakes, and casting a provision ballot;
  • Ensure citizens in carceral settings have access to information about elections through mechanisms available to them such as the internet, campaigns, and third-party groups;
  • Provide guidance to state officials to not prosecute citizens in carceral settings who complete an election ballot that includes an election they are not eligible to vote in; and
  • Provide a private right of action to enforce this legislation.

"This bill champions inclusion and representation, which are vital for community reintegration and public safety," said David Ayala of the Formerly Incarcerated Convicted People & Families Movement. "It ensures that the voices of those directly impacted by the criminal legal system shape federal policies, addressing reentry challenges effectively."

Jeremiah Mungo of More Than Our Crimes declared that "every American deserves a voice in their homeland."

The new bill is backed by 17 other House Democrats as well as Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) but is unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled lower chamber or split Senate. Despite the odds, lawmakers have also unveiled other voting rights measures throughout the year, including the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

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