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Legislation

Democracy Restoration Act

The Democracy Restoration Act is federal legislation introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin to restore voting rights upon release from prison.

Last Updated: June 23, 2021
Published: August 8, 2019

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

The DRA is included in Subtitle E of H.R. 1, the omnibus democracy reform bill which originally passed the House during the 116th Congress on March 8, 2019, and has now been reintroduced during the 117th Congress. The DRA was also introduced as a standalone bill, most recently in the 117th Congress by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD).

For a list of Senators signed on as co-sponsors of the DRA, click here. For a list of members of Congress who have signed on as co-sponsors of H.R. 1, click here.

Currently, 28 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 read more about voting rights restoration, click here

* On April 7, 2021, Washington Gov. Inslee signed a law that will automatically restore voting rights upon release from prison when it goes into effect in January 2022. That law will restore voting rights to an estimated 20,000 people.


Press

  • Read a post at the American Constitution Society Blog by Deborah J. Vagins and Erika Wood on the importance of the DRA.
  • Read a press release by Sen. Cardin's office on the bill's reintroduction.
  • For all press, research, and news on felony disenfranchisement, click here.

Bill History

2021

2019

  • 04/09/19 – The DRA was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in the Senate as S.1068.
    • Sen. Cardin and Minnesota Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R-Minn.) gave opening remarks at a briefing on the bill at the Senate Visitor Center. Myrna Pérez, the director of Voting Rights and Elections Program, moderated a panel that included:
      • Nicole Hanson, Out for Justice
      • Edgardo Cortes, Former Virginia Commissioner of Elections
      • Rev. Jim Liske, Christ Memorial Church
      • Veronica Cunningham, American Probation and Parole Association
  • 03/09/19 – The House of Representatives voted 234-193 in favor of H.R. 1, or the For the People Act of 2019.
  • 03/05/19 – The Brennan Center submitted Supplemental Written Testimony in support of the DRA.
  • 01/03/19 – The DRA was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House as H.R.196 and included in Subtitle E of H.R.1, the first bill introduced in the 116th Congress.

 

2018

  • 07/26/18 – The DRA was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House as H.R.6612.

 

2017

  • 07/19/17 – The DRA was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in the Senate as S.1588.

 

2015

  • 03/18/15 – The DRA was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in the Senate as S.772. The DRA was introduced by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) in the House as H.R.1459 the following day.

 

2014

  • 04/10/14 – The DRA was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) as S.2235 and H.R.4459

 

2012

  • 04/25/12 – Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the Senate sponsor of the DRA, 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

  • 12/16/11 – The DRA was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in the Senate as S.2017.
  • 06/16/11 – The DRA was introduced by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) in the House as H.R.2212.

 

2010

  • 03/16/10 – The Judiciary Committee, Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee held a hearing on the Democracy Restoration Act. Among those testifying include:
    • Burt Neuborne, Founding 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 Council
    • Hilary 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 as S.3640 and H.R.7136.
    • Sen. Feingold's statements can be found here.  

Support for the DRA

A growing and diverse coalition of organizations supports the DRA. The following groups have submitted letters in support of the bill: