Saying that voting can help former felons reintegrate into everyday life, a state lawmaker wants to make it easier for them to get back that right. “I think that people that have served their time and paid their debt to society that it’s important for them to get their most fundamental right – constitutional right – the right to vote, to get it back,” said Rep. Martín J. Quezada, D-Phoenix. He authored HB 2132, which would restore the right to vote to a person who has been convicted of two or more felonies after completing probation or receiving an absolute discharge from the Arizona Department of Corrections. The latter requires completing a prison term and parole and paying restitution in full. At present, members of that group must apply to vote again, a process that varies by county. “The right to vote being so fundamental … it seems automatic restoration of that right in particular is critical to making us a better-functioning society,” Quezada said.
First-time felons currently get back the right to vote automatically after completing probation or receiving an absolute discharge and paying fines and restitution. The bill would allow restoration before full payment of fines and restitution. “A lot of time, the payment of fines is also prohibitive, especially with people who are of limited resources, which they’re going to be after being released from prison,” Quezada said.
Donna Leone Hamm, a retired lower court judge and founder of the nonprofit organization Middle Ground Prison Reform, also sees voting as a bridge for felons to rejoin society.