Advocates Applaud House Push to Restore Voting Rights to Formerly Incarcerated People

U.S. Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.) speaks at the a press conference about the Democracy Restoration Act on July 27, 2023.

(Photo: @RepTroyCarter/Twitter)

Advocates Applaud House Push to Restore Voting Rights to Formerly Incarcerated People

"After 50 years of mass incarceration in America—and 50 years of stripping voting rights from justice-impacted individuals—it's time for a better path forward," said one advocate.

Voting rights and criminal justice reform advocates on Thursday applauded U.S. House Democrats for reintroducing legislation to end the disenfranchisement of 3.5 million people who are barred from voting in federal elections due to their past prison sentences—part of what Rep. Valerie Foushee, a co-sponsor of the bill, called the country's "long history of weaponizing incarceration status."

Foushee (D-N.C.) was one of six Democrats to introduce the Democracy Restoration Act, led by Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas.).

The bill would end the denial of federal voting rights to people who have been incarcerated for felony convictions and would provide outreach to people with past convictions about their newly restored right to participate in elections, eliminating what the Sentencing Project called "the complicated patchwork of state laws that creates a lack of uniform standards for voting in federal elections, exacerbates racial disparities in access to the ballot box, and contributes to confusion and misinformation regarding voting rights."

Twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico currently allow formerly incarcerated people to vote in state and local elections, but they cannot participate in federal elections. People on felony probation or parole cannot vote in 25 states, and in 11 states a conviction can lead to lifetime disenfranchisement.

"There's no justification for denying people who have paid their dues a voice in our democracy," said co-sponsor Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.), who spoke at a press conference on the bill on Thursday.

Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), and Greg Casar (D-Texas) are also co-sponsors of the House bill, while Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced the legislation in the Senate in May.

"It's in our values to say that a second chance is part of America," said Cardin at the press conference.

Recent polling from Stand Up America, the Sentencing Project, and other groups has shown that a majority of Americans believe the right to vote should be extended to all Americans regardless of past incarceration—a move that Nicole D. Porter of the Sentencing Project noted would end the United States' status as "an international outlier."

"After 50 years of mass incarceration in America—and 50 years of stripping voting rights from justice-impacted individuals—it's time for a better path forward," said Porter, senior director of advocacy for the group. "By empowering justice-impacted people with the right to vote, we strengthen the principles of fairness and equality in our democracy. That's why The Sentencing Project will continue to support legislative efforts that protect and expand the right to vote for all people impacted by the criminal legal system, including those currently in prison."

A policy brief by the Sentencing Project earlier this year explained how enfranchising formerly incarcerated people is a public safety measure, helping to reduce recidivism, as well as a way to advance criminal justice reform.

"Voting is among a range of prosocial behaviors in which justice-impacted persons can partake, like getting a college education, that is associated with reduced criminal conduct," the April report read. "Among Americans with a history of criminal legal system involvement, having the right to vote or the act of voting is related to reduced recidivism. The re-entry process after incarceration improves because restoring voting rights gives citizens the sense that their voice can be heard in the political process, and contributes to building an individual's positive identity as a community member."

Stand Up America founder and president Sean Eldridge said the bill is a step away from "a racist relic of the Jim Crow era."

"By introducing legislation to restore voting rights, Democrats in Congress are taking an important step toward acknowledging the injustice of these laws and building momentum to rectify them," said Eldridge. "Americans returning to their communities should have a say in who represents them in government and the policies that affect their lives—from the quality of their kids' education to access to parks and clean water—just like everyone else."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.