Delaware Representative Helene Keeley (D-3) traveled to Iraq in 2009 to oversee elections there. The joy she saw in the people with purple ink dotted on their thumbs and the violent lengths people went to in order to intimidate would-be voters were enough to show her that voting should be a universal right, she said. The next year, Delaware state representative and longtime proponent of voters’ rights Hazel Plant fell ill. Knowing she had little time left, Keeley said Plant asked her to take up the cause of her and her late husband, Rep. Al Plant, to secure immediate suffrage for felons who served their time.
Plant passed away shortly after enlisting Keeley’s help, but Keeley finally succeeded in passing the Hazel D. Plant Voter Restoration Act in the Delaware Senate on April 16. The constitutional amendment will allow felons, except for those convicted of murder, public corruption or sex crimes, to vote immediately after being released from jail. Before the amendment passed, there was a five-year waiting period on nonviolent felons voting in Delaware.
“What you’re looking at is somebody who wrote a bad check, that’s nonviolent,” Keeley said. “Even to a certain extent, someone who may have held up a corner store without a gun or robbing someone.”
The reason for the five-year waiting period that the bill amended, Keeley said, was a means for the original bill authored by Al Plant to get enough support to pass.
However, the five-year period did not begin until after the felon was off probation. Keeley said the amount of time on probation, in addition to the waiting period, could last as long as seven or eight years and was an unjust punishment.
“They’re back, they’re working, they’re paying taxes, they’re paying rent or mortgage or whatever it might be,” Keeley said. “They’re full members of society, so they should have the right to vote.”