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Movement on Felon Voting Rights Restoration Continues in the States

Movement on Felon Voting Rights Restoration Continues in the States

On Tuesday, February 9, the Maryland State Legislature voted to overturn Governor Larry Hogan’s veto and restore voting rights to the 400,000 people in the state currently on parole or probation. In doing so, it became the seventeenth state to permit the vote for ex-felons immediately after they are released from prison.

Felon disenfranchisement has become an increasingly popular topic of debate in recent years as part of much broader ongoing conversations about racial justice, criminal justice reform and voting rights. At the moment, the Minnesota legislature is considering a reform similar to that undertaken in Maryland. Additionally, the Iowa Supreme Court recently announced that it would hear a challenge to the standing policy in Iowa to permanently ban ex-felons from the ballot box unless the governor intervenes to individually restore voting rights. Along with Florida and Kentucky, Iowa is one of only three states with such stringent disenfranchisement laws. At the federal level, the Democracy Restoration Act (S. 772/H.R. 1459) would require states to grant ex-felons federal voting rights upon release from prison.

The questions of whether and how ex-felons should have their voting rights restored reflect deep disagreements about the purpose of the criminal justice system and about the relationship between one’s criminal record and civic rights. While opponents of voting rights restoration maintain that disenfranchisement can have both ethical (a person who breaks the law should not be able to play a role in making it) and practical (the threat of removing voting rights can deter criminal behavior) benefits, proponents argue that restoration is a powerful method of reintegrating and reengaging returning citizens in society.

In 2015, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) passed a resolution on racial justice that resolves the 2,000 Reform rabbis that make up the organization to seek “national and state legislation preventing permanent revocation of convicts’ voting rights.” By the end of 2016, we will likely have seen several states move their voting policies in line with that objective.

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters

Published: 2/12/2016