WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, May 18, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) led the reintroduction of S. 1667, the Democracy Restoration Act of 2023, which would create a federal requirement that all individuals released from incarceration regain voting rights. In light of the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass, and a Republican-controlled House, this bill faces an uphill battle to enactment.
Currently, there is a patchwork of felony disenfranchisement laws across the country, with only Maine, Vermont and Washington, D.C. permitting all citizens to vote in prison, regardless of conviction status. In the other 48 states, the laws range from restoring voting rights for all incarcerated individuals automatically after incarceration to restoring voting rights after probation and parole to permanent disenfranchisement. Currently, 11 states disqualify some voters for life.
The legislation cites three main reasons why felony disenfranchisement leads to unfairness in federal elections:
- “(A) the lack of a uniform standard for voting in Federal elections leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation in Federal elections based solely on where a person lives;
- (B) laws governing the restoration of voting rights after a criminal conviction vary throughout the country and persons in some States can easily regain their voting rights while in other States persons effectively lose their right to vote permanently; and
- (C) State disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities.”
“Of the 4,600,000 citizens barred from voting then, only 23 percent were in prison or jail. By contrast, 75 percent of persons disenfranchised then resided in their communities while on probation or parole or after having completed their sentences,” the bill text explains. S. 1677 would clarify that voting rights cannot be abridged unless someone is currently incarcerated for a felony conviction; it also outlines notification processes upon reentry from prison. S.1677 would give the U.S. attorney general and private citizens the right to enforce the law.
“Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship, and under our Constitution there is no legitimate justification for denying people who have paid their dues from having a voice in our democracy,” Cardin said in a press release. Cardin is joined by 22 other senators in the Democratic caucus who have already signed on as original cosponsors for the bill.