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Policy Library

Restore the Right to Vote for Those Who Have Served Their Time

There is broad agreement that after someone has completed their sentence and been released to continue their lives, they should be allowed to vote. (In Florida, for example, more people voted to restore this right than voted for any political candidate in the state in 2018). But five million Americans are denied their right to participate in the democratic process despite having served their time. The Restore the Right to Vote Act protects this basic right and creates a stronger democracy for all Americans.

The National Landscape

Passed in:

Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont

Introduced in:

Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New York

In The News

“'It’s devastating,' he said. His felony record follows him everywhere. His loss of political rights, he said, is a constant reminder of his second-class status and his powerlessness. 'They don’t take away your right to pay taxes,' he said. 'They’re taking money from me, but not giving me the right to say what my money is used for…' Political leaders 'think none of them is going to vote, and they write this neighborhood off,' he said. 'And what you see is the response: A lot of vacant housing, a lot of children running around that look lost.'”
“'It’s incredibly important to me. This is the only voice you got. This is the power you got, at the voting box,' said Robison, 50, who was released from prison in April after three years behind bars.”
“Tuesday, they were able to walk into the Supervisor of Elections office in Fort Myers and exercise what they've spent the years since fighting for: their right to vote. "We're full citizens again," Lance Wissinger said to his friend, Neil Volz, after they had signed their voter registration forms. It's been more than a decade since either of them was able to vote.”

Partners

  • Voting rights advocates
  • Community reintegration groups
  • Criminal justice reform advocates

Opposition

  • Special interests who benefit from diminished voter participation
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FAQ

Who does this help?
In addition to restoring a core constitutional right to millions of Americans, this bill can reduce the bureaucratic burden faced by would-be voters and elections boards. This bill ensures that people who have served their prison sentences are able to vote like all other eligible citizens in the state without costly administrative requirements.
How does this help reduce crime and mass incarceration?
Ensuring the right to vote for those who have served their time connects citizens to their communities and government and studies have found that when formerly incarcerated individuals feel invested in and connected to their communities, they are less likely to commit crimes.
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Model Policy

SECTION 1 (TITLE):
This act shall be known as the Restore the Right to Vote Act.

SECTION 2 (PURPOSE):
To restore the right to vote upon completion of any prison time sentenced for a felony conviction.

SECTION 3 (PROVISIONS):

(a) Any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of time sentenced in prison. No disqualification from voting shall be imposed as a condition of parole, probation, or any outstanding fines or fees.

(b) Upon his or her release from prison, a person so released must be given an official document which provides:
  • (i) That the person has been released from prison;
  • (ii) That the person is restored to his or her civil right to vote; and
  • (iii) Description of how to register to vote.