U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) today hosted a briefing on solutions to end the disenfranchisement of individuals with past criminal convictions. The Senators were joined by an expert panel of witnesses who spoke of the national and local importance of restoring voting rights to millions of Americans who are currently out of prison but not fully able to claim a stake in their community due to a weak patch work of state laws.
“Voting is neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue, it is an American issue,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Washington, D.C., office of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Restoring voting rights to people with past criminal convictions will expand our democracy, increase public safety, and streamline our nation’s election system. Senator Cardin and Senator Paul’s leadership can help change the national conversation on this issue. We urge Congress to move swiftly to restore voting rights to millions of Americans.”
“Senator Paul and I don’t agree on many issues, but we are united in our belief that America cannot justify disenfranchising such a large portion of our population. When prisoners are released, part of reintegrating them back into the community is allowing them the fundamental right to vote,” said Senator Cardin. “The patchwork of standards for voting in Federal elections leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation that disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities. My bill would allow the roughly 4 million Americans who have served their time the opportunity to be welcomed back into our democracy as a voting citizen.”
“Our criminal justice system is broken. I recently introduced the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, a bill that would restore Federal voting rights for non-violent criminals. Additionally, I am working on legislation to reform federal drug laws to reduce the incarceration rate for non-violent offenders. I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Ben Cardin on this issue and towards finding a solution to restore voting rights in this country,” Senator Paul said.
“Today’s briefing made clear that federal legislation is needed to restore voting rights for all returning citizens. By continuing to deny citizens the right to vote based on a past criminal conviction, the government is endorsing a system that expects our citizens to contribute to the community, but denies them participation on our democracy. The ACLU applauds Senators Cardin and Paul for their critical work on voter restoration reforms and for engaging in this important bipartisan dialogue,” said Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel.
The panel was co-sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice and the ACLU. Watch the video here.