CLARIFICATION: While the Rhode Island Restoration of Voting Rights Act (H.B. 7938) did become law while Governor Carcieri was in office,the law went into effect on July 7, 2006 without the Governor’s signature.
Last week, Wisconsin State Representative Tamara Grigsby and Senator Lena Taylor introduced the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act, a bill that seeks to restore voting rights to over 41,000 Wisconsin citizens who are out of prison, living in the community. The bill already has attracted attention, and support from one of Wisconsin’s well-known conservative columnists, James Wigderson.
In his column on July 9, Wigderson,
a columnist for the Waukesha Freeman, discussed the importance of restoring the right
to vote to people on probation and parole. “We should encourage those
that have been released to take a responsible role in society, and granting
them the vote is an important part of that,” wrote Wigderson. Wigderson,
whose articles have been cited as recommended reading on numerous conservative
sites, including Musings
of a Thoughtful Conservative
and Foxpoltics.net, has the ear of Wisconsin’s most
conservative county: Waukesha County. Waukesha County is a Republican stronghold and Wigderson’s support for the
Wisconsin bill brings an important voice into the conversation.
Support for voting rights restoration
from conservative allies is not new. There is a growing recognition
that felony disenfranchisement laws are contrary to our democratic ideals
and stymie successful reentry. Several recent
reforms that have
restored voting rights or eased the restoration process were approved
by Republican governors, including George W. Bush in Texas, Bobby Jindal
in Louisiana, Donald Carcieri in Rhode Island and Charlie Crist in Florida.
The late Jack Kemp, a Republican politician and self described “bleeding-heart
conservative,” was an outspoken proponent of restoring voting rights.
Members of the law enforcement and faith communities are also increasingly speaking out against felony disenfranchisement based on their belief in our democracy, the recognition that denying the right to vote to those out of prison runs counter to the purpose of our criminal justice system and the fundamental principles of redemption and forgiveness. Tough-on-crime advocates like Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney and former Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske (now President Obama’s drug czar) have advocated for restoring voting rights to people with felony convictions.The coalition of groups and individuals working to restore voting rights in Wisconsin continues to broaden and diversify. We hope that James Wigderson’s public stance on this issue will bear fruit, not only helping to pass the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act, but in continuing to build support among conservatives around the country who believe in the right to vote.