Gov. Bob McDonnell expedited the restoration of voting rights of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has built on the precedent. The state Senate has taken the next step. The chamber has given first approval to a proposed constitutional amendment to make restoration automatic. Nonviolent felons would not need to apply for it. Section 1 of Article II in the Virginia Constitution describes qualifications of voters. The amendment adds the italicized language to the text: “In elections by the people, the qualifications of voters shall be as follows: Each voter shall be a citizen of the United States, shall be eighteen years of age, shall fulfill the residence requirements set forth in this section, and shall be registered to vote pursuant to this article. No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.
An unusual alliance of some of the state’s most liberal and conservative lawmakers at the Capitol this year are supporting an effort that would allow convicted felons to vote once they leave prison. Under Minnesota law, convicted felons are only eligible to vote after they’ve completed all terms of their sentences — including probation or supervised release. Bills sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, and Sen. Bobbie Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, would allow convicted felons to vote after finishing their prison sentences. It would restore voting rights to an estimated 47,000 Minnesotans. On Thursday, Republicans and Democrats joined together at a press conference to tout the effort. Joining them were representatives from the Restore the Vote Coalition, which is comprised of more than 60 organizations that include public safety groups, churches and civil rights organizations.
Kentucky: It’s Almost Impossible for Felons to Vote in Kentucky. Rand Paul Wants to Change That. | Mother Jones
Sen. Rand Paul began the new year by lobbying for one of his favorite causes: criminal-justice reform. Last week, Paul issued a press release urging the Kentucky Legislature to act on a bill that would let state voters decide whether or not to create a path back to voting rights for nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences. “Restoring voting rights for those who have repaid their debt to society is simply the right thing to do,” Paul said in the release. In 2014, the Democratic-controlled Kentucky House approved a bill that would put a constitutional amendment on ballots in the fall—if voters approved the measure, it would have automatically restored the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have served their time. But the Republican-controlled Senate passed a substitute that proposed several tough restrictions, including a mandatory five-year waiting period after prison before felons could reapply to vote. The two chambers couldn’t agree, and the issue has stalled. Paul, who favors the less-restrictive House bill, is trying to give the issue CPR. (His office declined to comment for this article.)
A bill to make it easier for nonviolent felons to regain their voting rights was approved Friday by a legislative committee in Wyoming. The Joint Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the measure that would ultimately create an automatic process to restore the rights. The full Legislature will consider the bill when it convenes early next year. Under current law, people convicted of a single nonviolent felony or a number of nonviolent felonies stemming from the same event, must wait five years before applying to the state parole board for restoration of their voting rights.
If advocates have their way, voting rights could be a new reality for the nation’s incarcerated. Full voting rights for felons is a hot topic in Washington. With new legislation moving through the Senate, a spotlight is being placed on the plight of prisoners who not only face electoral disenfranchisement behind bars but also have no way to participate once they return home. “While release may be granted, access is denied,” said Desmond Meade, an ex-offender who later became a leading felon-rights activist and president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. As the Sentencing Project noted in its 2010 analysis, there were nearly 5.85 million Americans who were restricted from voting – 600,000 more than its research in 2004. That included 4 million already out in the community and completely barred from political participation. But a 2012 voter-turnout study by the George Mason University Elections Project found more than 6.8 million Americans combined who were either in prison, on probation, on parole or completely ineligible to vote because of felony convictions.
Felons who have served their prison sentences could win back their right to vote under a proposal to be considered next week by a Wyoming legislative panel. The measure, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, would establish a process of re-enfranchisement for nonviolent first-time offenders once they finish serving time behind bars, probation or parole. The ACLU’s Wyoming chapter said the bill would have restored voting rights to 4,200 nonviolent offenders in Wyoming between 2000 and 2011. Current law only allows restoration of voting rights to felons who are pardoned by the governor or who are specifically given the right to vote by the state parole board. But the law doesn’t lay out any criteria for re-enfranchisement, and some members of the board have complained they don’t have enough guidance.
A bill that would restore voting rights for thousands of Kentucky felons isn’t likely to pass this year. Lawmakers say they could not reach an agreement over different versions of the proposed legislation. GOP Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer previously amended the bill to include a five year waiting period and not cover felons with multiple offenses. Supporters of the proposed legislation have criticized Thayer’s changes, which would not affect about half of the 180,000 Kentuckians the original bill was meant to help.
Despite broad bipartisan support in the Kentucky House of Representatives and the backing of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a bill that would automatically restore voting rights for most convicted felons who complete their sentences appears dead. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said he likely won’t call the measure for a second vote because the Senate backs amendments he placed on the bill in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Senate President Robert Stivers said that House members have indicated they won’t compromise on the issue and that there is little Senate support for House Bill 70 as originally proposed. But two House sponsors of the measure — Democrat Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington and Republican Minority Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown — both said they’ve never claimed they wouldn’t compromise.
The Kentucky House on Wednesday rejected changes to a bill that would automatically restore voting rights to many felons. This throws out a set of revisions from the Republican-controlled Senate that would have reduced the number of affected felons by more than half.
On the floor of the Iowa Senate waits Senate File 2203, a bill that would reinstate the voting rights of ex-felons automatically after they finish serving their criminal sentences. Another version of the bill, Senate File 127, has already been killed by the Senate. “There is a provision in the state constitution that’s been interpreted to disqualify felons from voting,” Sen. David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) explained of the current rules in place on ex-felon voting rights. “And a process has been set up subsequently that allowed ex-felons to apply to have their voting rights restored by the governor.” During his term as governor, Tom Vilsack issued an executive order during his term that “rubber stamped” the application process to have voting rights reinstated. “Vilsack’s executive order rubber stamped without giving consideration to whether the individuals paid their restitution,” Johnson said.
Under debate, after passing in the Kentucky Senate with a vote of 34-4, is House Bill 70, an amendment to Section 145 of the Constitution of Kentucky, which asks that persons convicted of a felony, other than treason, intentional killing, a sex crime or bribery, the right to vote after expiration of probation, final discharge from parole, or maximum expiration of sentence. The bill is also asking that this amendment be submitted to the voters for ratification or rejection. The amendments to HB 70 impose a five-year waiting period after sentencing has been completed and disqualify anyone with more than one felony conviction from automatic restoration of voting rights. According to a recent analysis, conducted by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, of the 180,000 former felons who have completed their sentences and who would have voting rights restored under original provisions of HB70, 100,000 would be adversely affected by these amendments.
Many federal lawmakers are echoing Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to restore voting rights to felons in Virginia. In a couple states felons can vote while in prison. In many right after they leave the gates their voting rights are restored. Not in Virginia. The commonwealth is one of just a handful of states that doesn’t restore voting rights upon being released from prison or completing probation or parole, which Attorney General Holder says is unjust. “I call upon state leaders and other elected officials across this country to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation and paid their fines.” Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine remembers fighting to change Virginia’s law while in Richmond. “As governor, I, Mark Warner first and then me and then Bob McDonnell, we really tried to dramatically escalate the re-enfranchisement of folks, because I think we’ve all come to the realization that the sort of automatic disenfranchisement for a felony…is a bad rule.”
In the annals of cynical politics, Kentucky’s Republican Senate has reached new heights, or depths. It has thumbed its collective nose at 180,000 Kentuckians who have served their time for felony convictions but still aren’t allowed to vote, and the thousands of people who have worked for years to restore their voting rights — and told them they should be thankful. The House should refuse this farcical rewrite. The Senate has a long history of rejecting felon voting rights but the twist this year is the upper chamber manipulated the process so it could appear to be expanding rights without actually doing so.
The Senate passed a watered-down version of a bill to restore voting rights for some convicted felons on Wednesday, potentially dooming a measure that has garnered support from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. The changes — which would cut the list of those eligible for restoration of rights and impose a strict five-year waiting period — angered supporters of the original House Bill 70. “What we’re talking about is a basic human right,” said Tanya Fogle of Lexington, whose own voting rights were restored by Gov. Ernie Fletcher after she served a sentence for possession of crack cocaine and forging checks more than two decades ago.
Kentucky: Senate appears poised to approve constitutional amendment on felon voting rights | Kentucky.com
After years of languishing in the Republican-led Senate, a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights for most ex-felons appears poised to win legislative approval Wednesday at the behest of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. The full Senate is expected to sign off on the proposal Wednesday afternoon, following a scheduled appearance by Paul to push the bill through the Senate State and Local Government Committee at noon, said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester. “I think it has a good chance of passing,” Stivers said Tuesday afternoon.
The Iowa Senate State Government Committee split along party lines Wednesday in approving a bill to make it easier for ex-convicts to regain their right to vote Senate File 127 requires that upon discharge from certain criminal sentences, citizenship rights related to voting and holding public office must be restored. The measure was approved on a 9-6 vote with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans against. The bill now goes to the Senate floor, where it is likely to win approval. However, Republicans who control the Iowa House are unlikely to consider the measure. Under a policy enacted in 2005 by then-Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, former offenders automatically regained their voting rights once they were discharged from prison or parole. But when Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, returned to office in 2011 he signed an executive order that has made it much more difficult for ex-felons to vote.
Gov. Terry Branstad restored voting rights to more convicted felons in 2013 than in the prior two years combined, but they represent a tiny fraction of the thousands of former offenders who can’t vote because of a 2011 policy change the governor ordered, according to a review by The Associated Press. Branstad used his power of executive clemency to restore the right to vote and hold public office to 21 offenders who applied in 2013, compared to 17 in 2012 and two in 2011, according to data released by the governor’s officer under the public records law. Those receiving clemency included people convicted of theft, burglary, drugs, firearms and harassment charges, records show. The increase comes after the governor’s office made the application process easier in December 2012 in response to criticism from voting rights groups, who argued it was too onerous and perhaps the toughest in the nation. Acknowledging such criticism, Branstad removed requirements that applicants submit a credit history check and that all court-ordered restitution be paid to victims in full before they apply.
A bill that would restore voting rights for non-violent felons has passed a Kentucky House committee. The measure is Rep. Jesse Crenshaw’s latest attempt to put approximately 130,000 felons back on the voting rolls. Similar efforts have repeatedly stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. But Crenshaw says he hopes that his bill will fare better this year due to support from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
The restoration of felon voting rights has slowly come to the Blue Grass state. Section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution excludes those who have been convicted of a felony, bribery in an election, or treason from voting. Felons, regardless of the variety of crime committed, are prevented from voting for life and the only way they can reestablish their voting rights is by applying to the governor. Kentucky’s felons are “socially dead” having basic rights permanently withheld, most notably the right to vote. However, there is a movement in Kentucky to change these somewhat draconian laws. Bills amending the constitution’s section 145, while unsuccessful to date, have been introduced and have gained popularity. Additionally, popular politicians have thrown their weight behind the movement. It is entirely conceivable, if not probable, that Section 145 will be amended in the near future.
A Republican leader in the Kentucky Senate says GOP members are not warming to the restoration of felon voting rights despite U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s support of the issue. The response comes days after Paul staffers said they had been in contact with state lawmakers about the voting rights of ex-convicts. Democratic Senator Gerald Neal of Louisville told WFPL he was beginning to see opposition to his proposal wane earlier this week. Neal’s bill would automatically restore the civil rights of certain convicted felons unless they committed an intentional killing, treason, bribery or a sex crime. Paul spokesman Dan Bayens said no specific bill has been discussed. However, GOP state senators appeared to be “more open to the conversation” than in years past he said. But Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown made it clear it’s too early to make predictions and that other issues remain a priority. “It’s way too early for pundits to start handicapping the chances of legislation that may or may not pass sometime between January and April when we adjourn the session,” he says. The GOP holds a 23-seat majority in the 38-member state Senate. The one independent caucuses with the Republicans.
Advocates pleaded with Kentucky lawmakers Tuesday for legislation that could restore voting rights to some former felons, but Republicans say support remains murky in the Senate — where similar bills have died for years. Felons currently must petition the governor to regain voting rights under the Kentucky constitution, and Democrats are proposing changes that would allow most non-violent felons to vote once they have completed their sentence. Advocates say Kentucky is one of only four states that permanently bars felons from casting a ballot — a practice that hits hardest on African Americans and denies former convicts a chance to fully return to civic life, they argued. “I made a mistake, but I am not a mistake,” said Tayna Fogle, a former felon who works with Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, a left-leaning grassroots organization. “I can contribute to this community, and voting is very important to me.”
Saying Kentucky state senators have been the historical roadblock, Democrat Gerald Neal of Louisville has pre-filed a bill to restore voting rights to certain former felons. Movement on the proposal comes weeks after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke out in favor of restoring felons’ voting rights at the state and federal levels, which many observers argue is an indication the GOP may be changing its view on the issue. For the past six years, the Democratic-led state House has passed similar proposals by wide, bipartisan margins to give convicted felons their rights back. All of those measures have died in the Republican-controlled Senate and often without a hearing. Neal says senators in the Republican caucus are beginning to come around and putting the bill in his chamber first is a better strategy given its history.
A day after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul called on Republican lawmakers in the Kentucky General Assembly to give restoration of felon voting rights a second look, a prominent GOP state senator says the caucus might be open to the idea. Speaking at the Plymouth Community Renewal Center earlier this week, Paul said U.S. drug laws disproportionately effect racial minorities. One of the consequences, Paul said, is voter disenfranchisement for African-Americans. The senator told west Louisville residents he would lobby leaders in the Republican-controlled state Senate to seek a compromise on House Bill 70. The bill would automatically give certain felons their rights back and passed the state House in a bipartisan 72-25 vote. But it stalled in the state Senate this year.
Virginia: Cuccinelli set to announce findings on restoring voting rights of ex-felons | The Washington Post
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II is set to announce the findings of a committee he tasked with exploring how to make it easier for nonviolent felons to regain their voting rights, an issue Cuccinelli fought against as a state senator but has since come to support. In March, Cuccinelli, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, created an advisory committee on rights restoration after legislation to pass a constitutional amendment to automatically restore felon voting rights failed in the General Assembly, despite having the support of the attorney general and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). The committee is slated to release its findings Tuesday on what can and cannot be done to make the process easier.
Florida leads the nation by a wide margin in the number of felons who have served their sentences but cannot vote. One of only 11 states in the U.S. that does not automatically return civil rights to former inmates, Florida had not restored the rights of 1.3 million former inmates as of 2010, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that favors alternatives to incarceration. The next closest state was Virginia at 351,943. A policy introduced by Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi makes most former convicts wait years before they can apply to restore their rights, which include serving on a jury and holding public office. Critics say the policy disproportionately affects minorities — 60 percent of Florida’s prison population — and cost thousands the ability to vote in 2012. But Scott and Bondi say felons must demonstrate a crime-free life after prison before regaining their civil rights.
The Minnesota House passed an omnibus elections bill today that would allow eligible voters to cast absentee ballots without stating a reason for not voting in person on Election Day. The vote was 74-60, with only one two Republican joining Democrats on the prevailing side. That doesn’t appear to meet the “broad bipartisan support” standard that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has said he’ll require to sign election law changes. In addition to no-excuse absentee voting, the bill includes higher thresholds for taxpayer-funded recounts, tighter controls over felon voting rights and a reduction in Election Day vouching. There’s also a change in way statewide elections would proceed if a majority candidate dies or is incapacitated.
With a 15-6 vote, Delaware’s Senate passed landmark legislation that would restore voting rights to certain non-violent felons who have completed their sentences. House Bill 10, sponsored by Rep. Helene M. Keeley, D-Wilmington South, a two-year constitutional amendment, would amend the state constitution by eliminating the standard five-year waiting period before felons are restored voting rights. The bill would not apply to individuals who have been convicted of crimes such as murder, felony sex offenses or felony crimes against public administration, such as bribery.
A Minnesota House panel has advanced a batch of election law changes that for now has some bipartisan support. The bill includes no-excuse absentee voting, higher thresholds for triggering taxpayer-funded recounts, tighter controls over felon voting rights and a reduction in Election Day vouching. It would allow one voter to vouch for a maximum of eight people, down from the current limit of 15. The bill also links the state’s electoral votes for president to the national popular vote winner. The House Elections Committee approved the omnibus bill today on a mostly favorable voice vote, sending it on to the Government Operations Committee.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and chief executive officer of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pushed today for an amendment to the state constitution that would allow some convicted felons to register to vote after completing all terms of their sentences. Flanked by Mayor Dennis P. Williams and several state and local elected officials, Jealous called re-instituting voting rights for ex-felons a “bipartisan movement of common sense” and a counter to what he described as recent “voter-suppression” movements. “We are a country that believes in second chances. We are a country that believes that when it comes to justice … it’s good to be tough, but it’s better to be smart,” he said. “If somebody gets out of prison and they want to vote, that’s exactly the type of behavior we should be encouraging, not obstructing.”
Tim Mills told lawmakers Monday that the “depraved animal” who murdered his 19-year-old daughter in 2007 should not be allowed to vote while serving his time in prison. “It is reprehensible, offensive and unjust these criminals are able to vote under Maine law,” said Mills during a hearing before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Mills said he took his daughter Aleigh to the voting booth every year to teach her about citizenship. She voted only once before she was murdered, he said. John A. Okie, 22, was convicted in 2010 of murdering his father, John S. Okie, and Aleigh Mills. He will be in prison for at least 50 years. Tim Mills testified in support of L.D. 573, which would prohibit convicted murderers and other Class A felons from voting while incarcerated. In addition to murder, Class A crimes in Maine include manslaughter and gross sexual assault. Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow felons to vote while they’re in prison.