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Feb 25 / Sarah Massey

Restoring Voting Rights

Photo by Jared Rodriguez / Truthout via Creative Commons license.

In my experience, most Americans believe in second chances. Yet, in the voting rights world, we have a glaring contradiction. In several states, even after you serve your time, your voting rights are taken from you.

In a democracy, voting is a right, not a privilege. Yet in our democracy, well over five million Americans are unable to participate in this most basic, fundamental right of citizenship because of past criminal convictions. Currently, 35 states continue to disenfranchise residents after release from prison.

Felon disenfranchisement has a long and discriminatory history. “In Virginia, Kentucky and Florida, felon disenfranchisement affects a staggering one in five African Americans. There’s no excuse for that,” says the Washington Post editorial board. In 2011, we actually saw a roll back in voting rights. Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa re-enfranchised all of that state’s ex-felons by executive order on July 4, 2005 – though that order was then reversed by his successor, Governor Terry Branstad, in January 2011.

Four state have permanent disenfranchisement for all people with felony convictions, unless government approves individual rights restoration: Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Below are four resources to help you as you work to restore your rights in those states. (For information on laws in other states, please see the end of this article.)

This year, a year after another historic and diverse election, more states are considering how to reverse their disenfranchisement of citizens. In Kentucky, a new bill has passed out of a house committee and now faces votes in the house and senate. Virginia is looking at a similar bill with the backing of the governor.

For a full list of states disenfranchisement laws, go here or visit The Brennan Center for Justice also has a map that outlines disenfranchisement laws here. For further details on how to restore your voting rights, please contact your local election authority.


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