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Tag: Felon Voting Rights (page 1 of 3)

The VOTES Act

By: Adriana Dunn

On October 6, 2021, the Massachusetts Senate overwhelmingly passed the VOTES Act, aimed at expanding the temporary rights granted to citizens as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the highlights of the bill include permanent no-excuse mail-in voting, expanded early voting options, same day voter registration, a correction to the automatic voter registration system implemented in 2020, and assistance for incarcerated individuals to exercise their right to vote.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic produced brand new challenges, with the temporary implementation of many of the provisions found in the VOTES Act, Massachusetts citizens set record voter participation numbers. 3.7 million votes were cast in the 2020 election, a majority being either early ballots or mail-in ballots.

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Virginia Takes Initial Steps to Permanently Streamline the Restoration of Voting Rights for Virginians with Felony Conviction Histories

By: Sarah Fisher

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly took a significant initial step toward ensuring that Virginians with felony conviction histories have their voting rights restored upon release from incarceration.

Currently, under the Constitution of Virginia, Virginians with prior felony convictions are permanently disenfranchised and may only have their civil rights restored at the discretion of the Governor upon full completion of their sentences. This policy has historically been interpreted as requiring the payment of all court costs and fees, as well as  the successful completion of applicable probation or parole periods. State policy also required would-be voters to affirmatively request restoration of their rights via an application to the Governor and Secretary of the Commonwealth. While Virginia’s gubernatorial administrations now work proactively to restore voting rights to all who are eligible (therefore eliminating the application stage), new voters are often unaware their voting rights have been revived.

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Jim Crow on Life Support? Florida’s Voting Rights Restoration Amendment and The State’s Effort to Mitigate its Impact

By: James Lomonosoff

On November 6, 2018, an overwhelming majority of Florida voters voted to pass Florida Amendment 4, also known as the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative. Prior to the Amendment’s passing, some 1.5 million Floridians were barred from participating in elections on account of past felony convictions. The objective behind the Amendment, as articulated by its primary sponsor, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, was simple enough: “to end[] the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions.” The language of the amendment, at least as viewed by its advocates, seemed equally clear: “any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” Notably, the amendment did not restore voting rights to those convicted of homicide or felony sexual offenses. Continue reading

MD: Success in Voting Rights Restoration and Difficulties in Research

By: Mengxin (Esther) Cui

After a lengthy effort, Marylanders with felony convictions finally regained their voting rights automatically upon completion of their sentences. Unlike most states that automatically restore voting rights to people upon completion of their sentences, Maryland’s new policy does not require people to complete terms of probation or parole before restoring their right to vote (with the one exception that those convicted of buying or selling votes never regain eligibility to register to vote).  This change in Maryland’s policy followed the state legislature’s veto override on February 9, 2016.  Around 40,000 people are the beneficiaries of this override.

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Deciphering Felony Disenfranchisement in Post-Realignment California

In August of 2015, California restored the voting rights to approximately 60,000 former felony offenders who had been improperly disenfranchised as a result of a glitch in the political process. In the whirlwind of California’s recent prison reform acts, these citizens had been inappropriately classified as ineligible to vote in violation of California’s Constitution and election laws. Although the case had already been decided in the voters’ favor by a trial court, it was not until California’s current Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, decided this summer to drop the appeal that these former felony offenders could feel safe registering to vote. But how did such a large number of potential voters end improperly disenfranchised in the first place?

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VA: Governor Removes Court Fines and Fees as Barrier to Voting Rights Restoration

On June 23, 2015, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced changes to the restoration of voting rights process for Virginians with prior felony convictions. The Governor announced that Virginians with prior felony convictions will no longer have to pay their court fees, fines, and restitution as a condition of voting rights restoration eligibility.

Prior to this announcement, applicants had to complete their sentence and pay all court fees, fines, and restitution before being considered for voting rights restoration. Now, the only requirement for individuals to apply to regain their right to vote is completion of sentence (including probation/parole).  Importantly, the Governor’s announcement does not absolve individuals of the requirement that they pay outstanding fines and fees. It simply removes payment of such fees as a barrier to eligibility to vote. In announcing the new policy, the Governor likened conditioning voting on payment of a fee to payment of a poll tax. Explained the Governor, “These men and women will still be required to pay their costs and fees, but their court debts will no longer serve as a financial barrier to voting, just as poll taxes did for so many years in Virginia.”

The Governor also announced a second reform. Going forward Virginians with prior felony convictions who have had their rights restored will now have the option to include a notation in their criminal record designating that their political rights have been restored.

Mark Listes, Director of Revive My Vote and a rising 3L at William & Mary Law School, commented on the announcement. Listes noted, “The Governor has removed a significant impediment for many Virginians who would otherwise be eligible to restore their voting rights. Furthermore, the Governor has removed a lot of red tape for those who have paid their fees but may not have saved receipts proving they have done so.” Listes continued, “Revive My Vote stands ready to help Virginians navigate the application process under this new policy. I encourage anyone who has questions or would like to start their application to call our toll-free hotline at 844-WE2-VOTE (932-8683). We stand ready to help.” Revive My Vote is a civil rights organization that works primarily in Virginia and helps people with prior felony convictions restore their right to vote.

Is the Disenfranchisement of 1.5 Million Floridians Justifiable?

By Christine Wilson

Early voting in Florida has already begun, but Florida voters are not necessarily enthusiastic about either candidate for Governor. Democratic candidate and former Governor Charlie Crist switched political parties and many Floridians distrust him because of his switch. Voters are also not very fond of Governor Rick Scott because of his stance on various issues. According to six out of ten voters, the phrase “honest and ethical” describes neither Governor Scott nor Crist. Continue reading

It’s Not All Bad: Felony Disenfranchisement and Preclearance Aftermath in Virginia

by Student Contributor

On June 25, 2013, the levee finally broke. After earlier hinting that it would, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the formula for determining which jurisdictions required preclearance under the Voting Rights Act.

Predictably, pandemonium ensued. Some commentators forecasted that states would revert to practices that result in further restrictions on who can vote. An example in Virginia is a new voter ID law that will now go forward unchecked by the Department of Justice thanks to the Court’s decision in Shelby declaring the VRA preclearance formula unconstitutional. Continue reading

Kentucky Felon Voting And The Fate Of HCS HB 70

by Richard Spoor, Contributor

The restoration of felon voting rights has slowly come to the Blue Grass state.  Section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution excludes those who have been convicted of a felony, bribery in an election, or treason from voting.  Felons, regardless of the variety of crime committed, are prevented from voting for life and the only way they can reestablish their voting rights is by applying to the governor.  Kentucky’s felons are “socially dead” having basic rights permanently withheld, most notably the right to vote.  However, there is a movement in Kentucky to change these somewhat draconian laws.  Bills amending the constitution’s section 145, while unsuccessful to date, have been introduced and have gained popularity.  Additionally, popular politicians have thrown their weight behind the movement.  It is entirely conceivable, if not probable, that Section 145 will be amended in the near future.  Continue reading

News Brief: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Ballot Box

Former Richmond City Council member Sa’ad El-Amin could be back in the voting booth for this year’s Governor’s race. The irony is that this could frustrate his own efforts to ensure automatic rights restoration for felons in Virginia.

Federal District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. ordered a stay in the case of El-Amin v. Commonwealth of Virginia, holding off on deciding whether the convicted felon would have his voting rights restored, because of Governor Bob McDonnell’s announcement that he intends to restore voting rights to all non-violent felons in the state. (Full Disclosure: Two William & Mary Law School students, Kate Ward and Elderidge Nichols, under the supervision of Professor Rebecca Green, filed an amicus curiae brief in El-Amin’s case.) Continue reading

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