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The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Congress Urged to Allow Former Inmates to Vote in Federal Elections

March 29, 2010 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, recently testified before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties and urged Congress to pass the Democracy Restoration Act.  

"At the heart of this debate…is a question of rehabilitation, democracy and fairness," Shelton said.

The bill, which is supported by the civil rights community, would restore the right to vote in federal elections to millions of Americans with felony convictions who have completed their incarceration.

Felony disenfranchisement laws were originally passed during the Jim Crow era to prevent Blacks from participating in elections.  The United States is one of few western democracies that permits the permanent disenfranchisement of those with past felony convictions.

Shelton pointed out that, given the current rate of incarceration, nearly a third of the next generation of African-American men will permanently lose their voting rights.  African Americans are currently being incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of White Americans.

"Because the right to vote is such an important element of the democratic process, it is simply wrong to predicate it upon a system rife with racial disparities. And with voting such an integral part of becoming a productive member of American society, the way forward for our Nation should be a new paradigm in which we encourage ex-felons to vote, not prohibiting them," Shelton said.

While 15 states and the District of Columbia already restore voting rights upon release from prison, 35 states continue to restrict the voting rights of people who are no longer incarcerated.  Since 1997, 21 states have amended felony disenfranchisement laws to reduce voting restrictions and expand voter eligibility.  

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