Voting After Criminal Conviction | 2009 Spring Update

In This Newsletter: Democracy Restoration Act, Faith & Religious Leaders Join Campaign to Restore Voting Rights, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Allies, New Report: DeFacto Disenfranchisement, and Progress in the States.

March 10, 2009

This past year saw a surge of energy around voting and civic participation, resulting in an historic election and unprecedented opportunities for a variety of democratic reforms on the federal level and across the country. Our work to restore voting rights to people with criminal histories has been gaining steady momentum. We wanted to take a few minutes to update you on the issue and our efforts in partnership with many of you. 

RTV LogoIn This Newsletter:
Democracy Restoration Act
Faith & Religious Leaders Join Campaign to Restore Voting Rights
Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Allies
New Report: DeFacto Disenfranchisement
Progress in the States

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The Democracy Restoration Act
We continue to build momentum for the Democracy Restoration Act (DRA), federal legislation that would automatically restore voting rights in federal elections to people who are out of prison, and living in the community. We have been working closely with Senator Feingold and Representative Conyers who will sponsor the legislation, and we expect the bill to be introduced in the 111th Congress shortly.

Faith & Religious Leaders Join Campaign to Restore Voting Rights
On October 23, 2008 the Brennan Center hosted a day-long convening of leaders from the faith and religious community called Redemption, Reintegration and Restoration: A Role for People of Faith in the Movement to Restore Voting Rights. Drawing particularly from the widely held principles of forgiveness, mercy, restoration, and reconciliation, the convening sparked compelling discussions about how this community can be involved in the campaign to restore voting rights to people with criminal convictions. The day's agenda and a list of participants are here.

Inspired by the day, two participants recently published compelling articles on the issue. Dr. Bret Kincaid from Evangelicals for Social Action wrote an article explaining how disenfranchising 4 million Americans weakens our democracy.Poverty Forum Gabriel Schlabach from the Mennonite Central Committee published a piece in the Mennonite Weekly Review about the importance of forgiveness and second chances.

In February, The Washington Post reported that the Poverty Forum, a new coalition of Christian leaders and policy experts from across the ideological spectrum, made a series of important recommendations aimed at addressing poverty and calling attention to the individuals and families most marginalized in our society. Notably, the group recommended that Congress pass the Democracy Restoration Act. This broad, bipartisan recommendation prompted Myrna Pérez to share her thoughts on Huffington Post. And Erika Wood wrote an "Ideas" piece featured on the front page of Politico.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Allies
Our partners in the law enforcement and criminal justice community continue to be strong allies as this work moves forward. Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney, a member of our Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Advisory Council and President of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), recently wrote to PERF members that he hoped President Obama would pay serious attention to two compelling issues: restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions and fixing the disparity in federal crack cocaine sentencing guidelines.

Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske recently co-authored an editorial with John Lovick, Snohomish County Sheriff, in support of legislation in Washington State that seeks to automatically restore the right to vote to people who have completed prison, probation and parole. According to The New York Times, Chief Kerlikowske is being considered by the Obama Administration to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Last month, our faith and criminal justice allies teamed up with the Brennan Center to make recommendations to the Kentucky Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights. Carl Wicklund, Executive Director of the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), and Father Pat Delahanty, Interim Director of the Kentucky Catholic Conference, submitted comments urging the Commission take steps to reform Kentucky's draconian disenfranchisement laws.

New Report
report coverIn October 2008, the Brennan Center and the ACLU released De Facto Disenfranchisement. Together with the ACLU and our state partners, we interviewed hundreds of local election officials in more than 20 states to determine the level of knowledge of their respective state felony disenfranchisement policies. These interviews revealed widespread misunderstanding among election officials across the country that could result in the de facto disenfranchisement of untold hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.

Progress in the States
With increased public awareness and strong partnerships, there is significant progress towards policy reform in several states. Just since January, 50 bills have been introduced in 19 states seeking to restore voting rights or ease the restoration process. We are working closely with our state and national allies on legislation in a number of states including Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Please contact us for more information on legislative activity in your state (click here to email us).

On February 4, 2009, the Brennan Center filed an amicus curiae brief in Coronado v. Napolitano, a case pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Our brief argues that Arizona's law that requires people who have completed their criminal sentence to pay all fees, fines and restitution before being eligible to vote amounts to a poll tax in violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment.

This upward momentum has attracted a large amount of recent press. Favorable pieces have been published in the LA Times, The New York Times, NPR, and the San Francisco Chronicle. More press can be found here.

Please contact us (click to email) if there are opportunities to publicize voting rights restoration at upcoming conferences, events or publications. We thank you for your support and look forward to continuing our partnership. We would love to hear from you with any updates or news.

Erika Wood
Garima Malhotra

Take action! | Click here to forward this voting rights update.