Senate Bill Would Restore Voting Rights for Millions of American Citizens

December 16, 2011

Please Contact:

Desiree Ramos Reiner | 646.292.8321 | desiree.reiner@nyu.edu

Washington – The Brennan Center for Justice and a coalition of allied civil rights advocates lauded Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) today for introducing the Democracy Restoration Act of 2011.

The bill, introduced in the House as H.R. 2212 by Rep John Conyers (D-MI), would restore voting rights to millions of American citizens who are living and working in our communities, but have criminal convictions in their past. Based on a Brennan Center policy proposal, the bill has garnered broad support from a diverse coalition that includes law enforcement associations, the faith community, racial justice advocates, and civil rights organizations.

Currently, nearly 4 million citizens are out of prison and living in the community but are still denied the right to vote because of a prior conviction. Thirty-five states continue to deny voting rights to these Americans even after their release from prison.  Just this year, two states, Florida and Iowa, overturned reforms that had established a path for citizens to have their right to vote restored, while the governor of Nevada vetoed a bipartisan bill to unify and streamline the path to restoration in that state.

Many of these criminal disenfranchisement laws trace their roots directly back to the Jim Crow era and continue to have their intended effects today: 13 percent of African-American men have lost their right to vote under these laws, a rate that is seven times the national average.

“Excluding millions of citizens from the franchise only weakens our democracy,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel of the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C. office. “The Senate is poised to take a momentous step to restore the franchise to millions of hardworking, taxpaying American citizens.”

“One of the preeminent means of increasing public safety is to reduce recidivism. A key component is to involve offenders in civil activities designed to engage the disenfranchised,” said Justin Jones, Director, Oklahoma Department of Corrections. “The restoration of voting rights provided by this bill is a crucial step in reintegrating offenders into pro-social responsibilities.”

“The Democracy Restoration Act encourages good citizenship and gives former prisoners a real chance to contribute to their communities,” added Dr. H. David Schuringa, President of the Crossroad Bible Institute.

The Senate’s introduction of the Democracy Restoration Act comes in the wake of an avalanche of new restrictions on voting rights. According to a Brennan Center study published in October, 14 states have passed a combined total of 19 new laws and two executive actions this year imposing new restrictions on voting or voter registration. Together, these changes will make it harder for an estimated 5 million Americans to vote in 2012.

The Democracy Restoration Act would notify people about their right to vote in federal elections when they are leaving prison, sentenced to probation, or convicted of a misdemeanor and would ensure that probationers never lose their right to vote in federal elections. When enacted this legislation will restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4 million Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a nonpartisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. The Center's work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from racial justice in criminal law to Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. Part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group, the Brennan Center combines scholarship, legislative and legal advocacy, and communications to win meaningful, measurable change in the public sector.