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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: April 7, 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, 29 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.


  • 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


  • 01/04/21 – The DRA was reintroduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) in the House as part of H.R. 1 and referred to committee.
  • 02/11/21 – The DRA received 217 total cosponsors as part of H.R. 1
  • 02/25/21 - The DRA was reintroduced as a standalone bill by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD).


  • 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.



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



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



  • 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.



  • 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



  • 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.



  • 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.



  • 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.





  • 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

The DRA has garnered support from a growing and diverse group of organizations. The Brennan Center has helped to collect signatories to three letters of support for the bill: law enforcement and criminal justice leaders, faith groups, and civil rights organizations.

Groups and individuals who support the DRA include:

A Better Way Foundation

Alliance for Justice

The Aleph Institute

American Bar Association

American Civil Liberties Union

American Friends Service Committee

American Humanist Association

American Probation and Parole Association

Americans for Safe Access

American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate

Asian American Justice Center

Theodis Beck, President, Association of State Correctional Administrators

Secretary, North Carolina Department of Corrections

The Billy Graham Center, Institute for Prison Ministries

Black Youth Vote!

Brennan Center for Justice

Jane Browning, Executive Director, International Community Corrections Association

Campaign for America's Future

Campaign for Youth Justice

Catholic Charities USA

Center for the Study of the American Electorate

Church of Scientology

Citizens Against Recidivism

Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

Crossroad Bible Institute

Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action

Col. Douglas DeLeaver, Former National President, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives

Former Chief of Police, Maryland Transit Administration Police Force

Col. Dean Esserman, Chief of Police, Providence Police Department

Drug Policy Alliance

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Faces & Voices of Recovery


Fair Elections Legal Network


Felony Entertainment

The Fortune Society

Friends Committee on National Legislation

James Gondles, Jr., Executive Director, American Correctional Association

Ron Hampton, Executive Director, National Black Police Association

Lisa Holley, President, Association of Paroling Authorities International; Chair, Rhode Island Parole Board

Charles J. Hynes, District Attorney, Kings County, New York

Holistic Opportunity for Personal Empowerment (HOPE)

Interfaith Drug Prevention Initiative

International CURE

Doug Jones, Former U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Alabama

Justice Policy Institute

Justin Jones, Director, Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Peg Lautenschlager, Former Wisconsin Attorney General, Former U.S. Attorney, Western District of Wisconsin

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Leadership Conference for Civil Rights

Legal Action Center

Maryland CURE

Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office

Tom Miller, Iowa Attorney General

Jorge Montes, Chairman, Illinois Prisoner Review Board 


National Alliance of Faith and Justice

National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice

National Black Law Students Association

National Coalition of Black Civic Participation

The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

National Lawyers Guild

NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby NOVA Coalition

Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America

The Partnership for Safety and Justice

Penal Reform International

People Advocating Recovery

People for the American Way

Pennsylvania Prison Society

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office

Prison Fellowship

Project Vote

Protestants for the Common Good

The Real Cost of Prisons Project

Rehabilitation Through the Arts

Restorative Justice Ministries Network of North America

Rhode Island Family Life Center

Roosevelt University's Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy

Safe Streets Arts Foundation 

The Sentencing Project


Southern Coalition for Social Justice

John F. Timoney, President, Board of Directors, Police Executive Research Forum, Chief of Police, Miami Police Department

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society 

U.S. Dream Academy, Inc.

The Voter Enfranchisement Project of The Bronx Defenders

V.O.T.E. (Voice of the Ex-offender)

Ashbel T. Wall, Director, Rhode Island Department of Corrections

Carl Wicklund, Executive Director, American Probation and Parole Association

Hubert Williams, President, Police Foundation, Former Chief of Police, Newark Police Department