Lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4.4 million U.S. citizens with criminal convictions after their release from prison. The Democracy Restoration Act was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. Similar versions of the bill have been introduced in past congressional sessions. “Millions of American citizens are without a political voice in federal elections because the current patchwork of laws that disfranchise people with criminal records has created an inconsistent and unfair electoral process,” Deborah J. Vagins, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a press release issued Wednesday. She urged Congress to pass the bill, arguing that many criminal disfranchisement laws stemmed from the Jim Crow era, with the intent of keeping African-Americans from voting.
Disfranchisement policies are exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in 1 in 13 African-Americans being barred from voting, according to the Sentencing Project, an organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.
Currently, 35 states have policies that prevent people from voting after their release from prison, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the New York University School of Law.