For Immediate Release
Feingold Introduces Bill Restoring Voting Rights For Millions of Americans
Legislation Would Re-enfranchise People Who Paid Their Debt to Society
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has introduced legislation to restore the right to vote to millions of Americans. The Democracy Restoration Act introduced by Feingold, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would guarantee voting rights in federal elections for millions of Americans who have paid their debt to society after a felony conviction. The bill would allow people on probation or parole, or who have completely served their sentences, to freely exercise their fundamental right to vote in federal elections. The legislation would not, however, grant the right to vote to people who are incarcerated. In the event the legislation is not acted on this session, the legislation will be reintroduced in the next Congress. The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
"People who commit crimes must pay the price," Feingold said. "But once that price is paid and our criminal justice system determines they are ready to rejoin society, they should have all of the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship. The right to vote conveys a sense of responsibility for the well being of a community. Relegating people to second-class citizen status keeps them on the outside and may even drive them back to behavior that got them in trouble in the first place."
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and the Sentencing Project, 5.3 million American citizens are not allowed to vote because of a felony conviction. Nearly four million people who are disenfranchised are no longer, or never were, in prison, and approximately two million have completed their entire sentence, including probation and parole. Right now, a felony conviction can result in permanent disenfranchisement in ten states. In 35 other states, convicted offenders cannot vote while on parole and in 30 of those 35, people on probation are disenfranchised as well. African-Americans are disproportionately affected by these state laws. Nationwide, 13 percent of all African-American men are disenfranchised. Maryland, Rhode Island and Florida are among the states that most recently restored the right to vote to those who had paid their debts to society.
Also read Senator Feingold's op-ed from earlier this year, co-authored by former HUD Secretary and Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Jack Kemp, on the issue of democracy restoration: http://feingold.senate.gov/opinion/08/20080215.htm