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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: January 1, 2022
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, 27 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


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: