Democracy Restoration Act

April 10, 2014

The Democracy Restoration Act (DRA) is federal legislation that seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to the 4.4 million disenfranchised Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community, but are still denied the right to vote.

The bill has been introduced in the 113th Congress by Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). Click here for the press release around its 2014 introduction.

For a list of members of Congress  signed on as co-sponsors of the bill in the 112th Congress, click here: House and Senate.

Currently, 35 states continue to disenfranchise people after release from prison. For a state-by-state guide on felony disenfranchisement laws around the country, view our map here. Restoring the Right to Vote, a comprehensive policy proposal, is here. To view all publications related to voting after criminal convictions, click here


Congressional Testimony

On March 16, 2010, the House Judiciary Committee, Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee held a hearing on the Democracy Restoration Act. View transcript.

Among those testifying include:

  1. Burt Neuborne, Legal Director of the Brennan Center; View testimony
  2. Carl Wicklund, Executive Director of the American Probation and Parole Association and member of the Brennan Center Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Advisory CouncilView testimony [pdf]
  3. Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau; View testimony [pdf]
  4. Andres Idarraga, a Yale law student who voted for the first time in 2008 after having his voting rights restored by a 2006 change to Rhode Island’s felony disenfranchisement law; View testimony [pdf]
  5. Ion Sancho, Supervisor for Elections in Leon County, Florida; View testimony [pdf]

Written testimony was submitted by:

  1. Rev. Gilberto Velez, Pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Misericordia in Laredo, Texas and Chairman of the Board of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; View testimony [pdf]
  2. Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project; View Testimony [pdf]

Press

  • Read a post at The Hill's Congress Blog by Nicole Austin-Hillery and Nic Riley on the importance of the DRA.
  • Read a press release by Senator Cardin's office on the bill's introduction.
  • For press on the DRA, click here [pdf].
  • To view the Brennan Center's press release on the 3/16/10 Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee hearing, click here
  • To view Senator Feingold's press release, click here.
  • To read Senator Russ Feingold and Jack Kemp's op-ed on the DRA, click here.
  • For all press on felony disenfranchisement, click here.

Bill History

2012

  • Senate Briefing on the Democracy Restoration Act - Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 10:00am
  • Senator Cardin, the Senate sponsor of the Democracy Restoration Act, gave opening remarks at a briefing on the bill at the Capitol Visitor Center. Nicole Austin-Hillery, the director of the Brennan Center's Washington, DC office, moderated a panel that included:
  • Desmond Meade, President, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition
  • Deborah J. Vagins, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
  • Dave Louden, Assistant to the President, Justice Fellowship (Prison Fellowship Ministries)
  • Carl Wicklund, Executive Director, American Probation & Parole Association
  • Pictures from the event can be found here.

2011

December - Senator Cardin (D-Maryland) introduced the bill in the Senate for the 112th Congress. The DRA unfortunatly did not pass during the 111th Congress, so the bill had to be re-introduced. Representative Conyers (D-Michigan) is the sponsor of the House version of the bill, which was introduced earlier in the year. The bill is in a preliminary stage of the process, and the House and Senate Judiciary committees will have to review the bill before it gets a full floor vote. You can track its status here.

2010

3/16/10 - Judiciary Committee, Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee holds an hearing on the Democracy Restoration Act. Among those testifying include, Burt Neuborne, Legal Director of the Brennan Center; Carl Wicklund, Executive Director of the American Probation and Parole Association and member of the Brennan Center Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Advisory CouncilHilary O. Shelton Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau; Ion Sancho, Supervisor for Elections in Leon County, Florida; Andres Idarraga, a Yale law student who voted for the first time in 2008 after having his voting rights restored by a 2006 change to Rhode Island’s felony disenfranchisement law.

2009

2008

  • 09/26/08 - The DRA was first introduced in the 110th Congress on as S.3640 and H.R.7136. Senator Feingold's statements can be found here.  
  • Senator Feingold introduced the bill with the support of Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Cardin. 
  • Representative Conyers introduced the bill in the House. Other sponsors included Mr. Nadler or New York, Mr. Grayson, Mr. Grijalva, Mr. Stark, Ms. Waters, Mr. Payne, Mr. Norton, Mr. Davis of Illinois, Mr. Frank of Massachusetts, Mr. Hinchey, Mr. Jackson of Illinois, Mr. Moran of Virginia, Mr. Hastings of Florida, Mr. Johnson of Georgia, Mr. Scott of Virginia, and Mr. Honda.

Support for the DRA

The DRA has garnered support from a growing and diverse group of organizations. The Brennan Center has helped to collect signatories to three letters of support for the bill: law enforcement and criminal justice leaders, faith groups, and civil rights organizations.

Groups and individuals who support the DRA include:

A Better Way Foundation

Alliance for Justice

The Aleph Institute

American Bar Association

American Civil Liberties Union

American Friends Service Committee

American Humanist Association

American Probation and Parole Association

Americans for Safe Access

American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate

Asian American Justice Center

Theodis Beck, President, Association of State Correctional Administrators

Secretary, North Carolina Department of Corrections

The Billy Graham Center, Institute for Prison Ministries

Black Youth Vote!

Brennan Center for Justice

Jane Browning, Executive Director, International Community Corrections Association

Campaign for America's Future

Campaign for Youth Justice

Catholic Charities USA

Center for the Study of the American Electorate

Church of Scientology

Citizens Against Recidivism

Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

Crossroad Bible Institute

Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action

Col. Douglas DeLeaver, Former National President, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives

Former Chief of Police, Maryland Transit Administration Police Force

Col. Dean Esserman, Chief of Police, Providence Police Department

Drug Policy Alliance

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Faces & Voices of Recovery

FairVote

Fair Elections Legal Network

FedCURE

Felony Entertainment

The Fortune Society

Friends Committee on National Legislation

James Gondles, Jr., Executive Director, American Correctional Association

Ron Hampton, Executive Director, National Black Police Association

Lisa Holley, President, Association of Paroling Authorities International; Chair, Rhode Island Parole Board

Charles J. Hynes, District Attorney, Kings County, New York

Holistic Opportunity for Personal Empowerment (HOPE)

Interfaith Drug Prevention Initiative

International CURE

Doug Jones, Former U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Alabama

Justice Policy Institute

Justin Jones, Director, Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Peg Lautenschlager, Former Wisconsin Attorney General, Former U.S. Attorney, Western District of Wisconsin

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Leadership Conference for Civil Rights

Legal Action Center

Maryland CURE

Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office

Tom Miller, Iowa Attorney General

Jorge Montes, Chariman, Illinois Prisoner Review Board 

NAACP

National Alliance of Faith and Justice

National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice

National Black Law Students Association

National Coalition of Black Civic Participation

The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby NOVA Coalition

Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America

The Partnership for Safety and Justice

Penal Reform International

People Advocating Recovery

People for the American Way

Pennsylvania Prison Society

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office

Prison Fellowship

Project Vote

Protestants for the Common Good

The Real Cost of Prisons Project

Rehabilitation Through The Arts

Restorative Justice Ministries Network of North America

Rhode Island Family Life Center

Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy

Safe Streets Arts Foundation 

The Sentencing Project

Sojourners

Southern Coalition for Social Justice

John F. Timoney, President, Board of Directors, Police Executive Research Forum, Chief of Police, Miami Police Department

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society 

U.S. Dream Academy, Inc.

The Voter Enfranchisement Project of The Bronx Defenders

V.O.T.E. (Voice of the Ex-offender)

Ashbel T. Wall, Director, Rhode Island Department of Corrections

Carl Wicklund, Executive Director, American Probation and Parole Association

Hubert Williams, President, Police Foundation, Former Chief of Police, Newark Police Department