Category Archives: Voting Rights

Restoration of Rights: Virginia and NJ

Restoration of voting rights has been an issue in the governor’s race in Virginia,  one of four states where a person loses the franchise entirely after they are convicted of a felony-level offense. Current governor Terry McAuliffe tried to use his pardon power to restore the rights of 200,000 Virginians in one blow. Republican lawmakers successfully challenged the en masse order in court, so the governor began signing the orders individually, totaling more than 168,000 to date. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has started running TV ads challenging this policy. Of note is that while Gillespie challenges the “automatic” restoration of rights, he appears to endorse at least a process for restoration:

“Virginians who have paid their debt to society and are living an honest life should have their rights restored. But Ralph Northam’s policy of automatic restoration of rights for unrepentant, unreformed, violent criminals is wrong.”

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the issue of voting rights restoration is also in the public eye, witness this recent editorial in the New Jersey Star-Ledger: “Why N.J. must restore voting rights to those in prison, parole, probation”

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6 Million Lost Voters

The Sentencing Project has published a new study, “6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016” by Christopher Uggen, Ryan Larson, and Sarah Shannon. Their key findings:

  • As of 2016, an estimated 6.1 million people are disenfran-chised due to a felony conviction, a dramatic escalation from 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, and 3.34 million in 1996.
  • Approximately 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population – 1 of every 40 adults – is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
  • Individuals who have completed their sentences in the twelve states that disenfranchise people post-sentence make up over 50 percent of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling almost 3.1 million people.
  • Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
  • Florida alone accounts for more than a quarter (27 percent) of the disenfranchised population nationally, and its nearly 1.5 million individuals disenfranchised post-sentence account for nearly half (48 percent) of the national total.
  • One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than that of non-African Americans. Over 7.4 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.
  • African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In four states – Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent) – more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

2017: 99 Bills To Restrict Voting Access

The Brennan Center’s “Voting Law Round-Up” for 2017 so far details 99 different bills in 31 states introduced for the purpose of limiting or restricting access to registration and voting. Five states have already implemented legislation:

  • Iowa’s governor signed a broad-based law that will require voter ID, restrict voter registration efforts, and impose new burdens on Election Day registration and early and absentee voting. Although not as restrictive as a North Carolina law that passed in 2013 (and was blocked by a federal court), Iowa’s law similarly restricts voting in a number of different ways.
  • Arkansas passed two bills to bring back voter ID to the state after a court struck down an earlier law.
  • North Dakota also enacted legislation to re-impose an identification requirement after a court blocked a strict ID law in 2016.
  • Indiana enacted a law that will implement a purge of registered voters from the rolls. The program will remove voters in a manner similar to purges in other states that have been criticized for being error-prone and inadequately protective of eligible voters.
  • Montana’s house and senate passed a bill that will prevent civic groups and individuals from helping others vote absentee by collecting and delivering their voted ballots. The bill now goes to voters as a November 2018 ballot measure.
  • Georgia’s legislature sent bill that would make voter registration more difficult to the Governor, and he signed it on May 9.