A bill was introduced this week in both the House and Senate which would restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 6 million Americans who have felony convictions.
Representative John Conyers of Michigan and Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland–both Democrats–jointly introduced The Democracy Restoration Act of 2015. If approved, the bill would allow all former prison inmates to vote in federal elections. The bill states:
“Disenfranchising citizens who have been convicted of a criminal offense and who are living and working in the community serves no compelling State interest and hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The United States is the only Western democracy that permits the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions.”
Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice said the action is long overdue and will be good for the nation:
“At a time when our country is considering the legacy of Selma, and the equality at the ballot box it helped bring, preventing people from voting is just not acceptable. Government at every level should act to restore voting rights and ensure our voting system is free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Americans.”
The legislation would not apply to state elections as states set their own standards for elections held at the local level.
The current ban on voting by those who have been convicted of a felony disproportionately affects African-Americans, who face disenfranchisement at nearly four times the rate of non-black citizens. In a statement, Rep. Conyers addressed this statistic:
“Just as poll taxes and literacy tests prevented an entire class of citizens, namely African-Americans, from integrating into society after centuries of slavery, ex-offender disenfranchisement laws prevent people from reintegrating into society after they have paid their debt by serving time in prison.”
The bill does have some support from Republicans, most notably Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has expressed his frustration with denying those who have paid their debt to society being denied the most basic of American rights.
But it remains to be seen if the rest of the Republicans in Congress will do more than pay lip service to the idea of letting all Americans of legal age cast ballots. The GOP isn’t exactly known for extending rights to citizens. They’re usually far too busy attempting to take them away.
This article was originally published by the same author at LiberalAmerica.org.