March 21, New York, New York
Millions of ex-offenders who have been released from prison are denied the right to vote. That undercuts efforts to reintegrate former prisoners into mainstream society. And it goes against one of democracy’s most fundamental principles: that government should rule with the consent of the governed.It’s time that all adult citizens have the ability to vote for representation that impacts their lives.
Congress held hearings last week on a bill, the Democracy Restoration Act that would allow released ex-felons to vote in federal elections. It would also require the states, which administer elections, to give them appropriate notice that this right has been restored.
Currently, about four million Americans who have been released from prison are disenfranchised in federal elections by laws barring people with felony convictions from voting.
Many of the laws disenfranchising former criminals date back to the post-Civil War era and were used to prevent freed slaves from voting. These laws still have a significant racial impact. About 13 percent of black men in this country are denied the right to vote by criminal disenfranchisement laws, more than seven times the rate for the population as a whole.
There is no good reason to deny former prisoners the vote. Once they are back in the community — paying taxes, working, raising families — they have the same concerns as other voters, and they should have the same say in who represents them.