New Federal Bill Would Guarantee Voting Rights Regardless of Incarceration Status

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Newly proposed congressional legislation would achieve a landmark gain for voting rights by ending felony disenfranchisement in all federal elections.

The Inclusive Democracy Act, introduced yesterday by U.S. Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) would guarantee the right to vote for all Americans who have criminal convictions, regardless of their incarceration status or nature of conviction.

The legislation outlines how those still incarcerated could vote by mail, fix their ballots and cast provisional ballots and would ensure that they have access to election information through multiple avenues, including the internet, campaigns and third party groups. State and federal entities would also be required to notify applicable individuals of their right to vote.

Included in the bill is an explicit guarantee that private groups and individuals — like civil rights organizations, voters and more — would be allowed to bring lawsuits under the Inclusive Democracy Act. This guarantee is also known as a private right of action, which has been subject to an onslaught of attacks from Republicans and the courts in relation to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Just last month private groups and individuals in multiple states were barred from bringing Section 2 claims following a disastrous U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. If no private right of action is provided, only the U.S. Department of Justice can file suit under the given law.

In a press release, Pressley said that “[t]oo often, citizens behind the wall and those with a record are wrongfully stripped of their sacred right to vote and denied the opportunity to participate in our democracy. With Republicans and the Supreme Court stopping at nothing to undermine voting rights and exclude Black and brown folks from participating in our democracy, we must protect and expand access to the ballot box – including for incarcerated citizens.”

Welch added that the bill “is all about helping disenfranchised voters who have been systemically robbed of their right to participate in our democratic process.”

The Inclusive Democracy Act is co-sponsored by more than a dozen House members and Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). A plethora of organizations have also endorsed the bill.

A similar bill introduced by Democrats earlier this year would create a federal requirement that all individuals released from incarceration regain their voting rights.

Read the bill here.

Track the status of the bill here.