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February 7, 2022

Taking stock of state felon disenfranchisement as federal reform falters

Long-time readers know I am a big fan of the franchise in our democracy, and thus I always question felon disenfranchisement laws. Disappointingly, it now seems unlikely that a federal voting rights reform law will be enacted to address this issue anytime soon. But, encouragingly, this new Politico piece notes that some states are making progress on this front even absent federal reforms.  The piece's full headline, "States moving fast after Congress failed to expand felon voting rights: The number of states automatically restoring voting rights has increased by 50 percent since after the 2018 election and others could follow this year," is a bit more upbeat than the full article.  But it still seems like there is reason for reform optimism, and here is an excerpt from an article worth reading in full:

Activists' hopes for a sweeping federal restoration of rights were dashed when Democrats’ voting rights megabill went down in the Senate in January.  The bill would have been revolutionary for those convicted of felonies because it would have presented one national standard: A person’s right to vote, under that legislation, could not be “denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility at the time of the election.”

Outside of D.C., success has been found more readily in state capitals. In 21 states, people convicted of felonies automatically regain the right to vote upon their release from incarceration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures....  The number of states automatically restoring voting rights has increased by 50 percent since after the 2018 election, with seven states passing laws or ballot initiatives that automatically restored a person’s rights once they were released, according to the NCSL....

And activists say they are also eyeing longer-term pushes in states like Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi, hoping to attract more Republican support.  While Democratic lawmakers have recently formed the foundation for votes for the reenfranchisement of people with felony convictions, there is some noticeable cross-partisan support for it as well.

Chapters of Americans for Prosperity — the libertarian-leaning organization at the heart of the Koch constellation of conservative groups — have backed drives in states like New Mexico and Virginia.  And in Kentucky, some Republican lawmakers have backed pushes for the eventual restoration of voting and other rights in the state. 

February 7, 2022 at 05:08 PM | Permalink


Felony disenfranchisement has long been a huge problem in my home state of Kentucky. Historically, former felons could only get their voting rights restored by filing a kind of partial pardon application (for restoration of civil rights, including the right to run for public office). Some Governors granted thousands of petitions, but others granted few. As a result, about 30% of the African-American population could not vote (26% of black women and 33% of black men). The first Executive Order that our current Governor, Andy Beshear (son of former Governor Steve Beshear, and a U.Va. Law school grad) signed after being inaugurated was to automatically restore the civil (voting) rights of all former felons, with a few exceptions for crimes such as murder, rape and other sex offenses. That Executive Order is subject to being revoked by the next Governor, particularly if he is a Republican. Andy Beshear's predecessor, Republican Matt Bevin, revoked the Executive Order automatically restoring voting rights, signed by his Democratic predecessor (Steve Beshear).

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Feb 10, 2022 8:58:41 AM

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