The UK government is reportedly to scrap its blanket ban on prisoners being allowed to vote, 12 years after the European court of human rights ruled that it was unlawful. Britain has ignored a series of judgments by European courts since 2005, maintaining that it is a matter for parliament to decide. But the government is planning to end its long-running defiance by allowing prisoners serving a sentence of less than a year who are let out on day release to be allowed to go home to vote, according to the Sunday Times. The newspaper said the decision had been made by David Lidington, the justice secretary, who circulated plans to ministers last week. The paper said it would affect hundreds of prisoners and quoted a senior government source as saying: “This will only apply to a small number of people who remain on the electoral roll and are let out on day release. These are not murderers and rapists but prisoners who are serving less than a year who remain on the electoral roll. No one will be allowed to register to vote if they are still behind bars.”
Australia: Potentially thousands of prisoners prevented from voting in federal elections, FOI documents reveal | ABC
Correctional services in Australia’s most populous states barred Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) staff from entering prisons to conduct voting in successive federal elections, new documents show. Potentially thousands of prisoners were prevented from voting in the 2010, 2013 and 2016 elections due to a failure to enrol them and register their ballots. The revelations come in the form of hundreds of AEC documents, including internal memos, emails and records, obtained by the ABC under freedom of information legislation. The documents show the AEC went to great lengths to ensure prisoners were correctly enrolled and equipped to vote, but the efforts had little effect.
Arthur Taylor and six other inmates claim they were unlawfully barred from voting in the 2014 general election. In 2010 Parliament passed a law preventing all sentenced prisoners from voting, regardless of the length of their sentence. However earlier electoral legislation allowed prisoners serving a jail term of less than three years to vote. At the time the legislation was being considered, the Attorney-General warned Parliament that a blanket ban contravened the Bill of Rights, but the law was passed anyway.
The Knesset Interior Committee unanimously passed a bill on Monday that will allow prisoners to vote in municipal elections while incarcerated. The bill, initiated by MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), is similar in its essence to the amendment bill that passed in 1986, which gave prisoners the right to vote in the general – but not municipal – election. The bill now needs to be approved by the Knesset in its first reading. The MKs explained that each citizen holds more weight in municipal elections than they do in national elections, and that the outcome has major implications on their day to day life.
Californians in county jails for felony offenses will be able to vote next year, thanks to a new bill passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday. The bill—introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat—is part of a growing nationwide liberal push against felony disenfranchisement for those in and out of prison. Among supporters, the bill has been presented as a way to reintroduce thousands of people in county jails in California back to civic life, while critics, mostly Republicans have framed renfranchisement efforts as a cynical partisan exercise designed to help Democrats win elections. During a floor debate over the bill, Weber argued that “civic participation can be a critical component of re-entry and has been linked to reduced recidivism.” Her argument draws on a body of evidence showing that restoration of civil rights to people with felonies can reduce recidivism, including a study by the Florida Parole Commission.
California: Felons in county jails to be allowed to vote in California elections | Los Angeles Times
Despite widespread opposition from law enforcement, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed a bill that will allow thousands of felons in county jails to vote in California elections as part of an effort to speed their transition back into society. Through a representative, Brown declined to comment on the bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who said it would reduce the likelihood of convicts committing new crimes. “Civic participation can be a critical component of re-entry and has been linked to reduced recidivism,” Weber said when the bill was introduced.
The California state Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk last month that would allow felons serving time in county jails the right to vote. Current California law only allows felons the right to vote after they have completed parole. The California constitution states that “The Legislature shall prohibit improper practices that affect elections and shall provide for the disqualification of electors while mentally incompetent or imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.” The legislation addresses this language in the state’s constitution by defining imprisoned as “currently serving a state or federal prison sentence.”
A Japanese court has found an election law provision denying prisoners the right to vote in a national poll is constitutional, in the latest ruling in a series of lawsuits filed over the controversial issue. The Hiroshima District Court on Wednesday rejected a claim by a prison inmate in his 50s who sought the right to vote on the grounds the election law contravenes the Constitution, which guarantees the “inalienable right” to choose public officials. “We cannot say it is against the Constitution,” presiding Judge Masayuki Suenaga said in the ruling, adding there is a “certain degree of reasonableness” in the restrictions set by Article 11 of the Public Offices Election Law, which says imprisoned individuals cannot vote.
Thousands of felons serving time in county jails would be allowed to vote in California elections from behind bars under a bill moving swiftly through the state Legislature despite widespread opposition from law enforcement officials. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) introduced the measure with an aim that providing convicts the right to vote will give them a better sense of belonging to society and possibly reduce their chances of committing new crimes when released. “Civic participation can be a critical component of re-entry and has been linked to reduced recidivism,” Weber told her colleagues during a recent heated floor debate on the bill. But police chiefs and sheriffs throughout California say the proposal that passed narrowly in the state Assembly undermines a longstanding social compact: those who commit a serious crime lose not only their freedom to live in society for a time but also their right to participate in democracy.
On April 22, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a sweeping executive order that changed the lives of 200,000 ex-felons in Virginia, instantly restoring their right to vote. This order leaves only Kentucky, Florida and Iowa with blanket lifetime disenfranchisement policies for ex-felons. In these three states, no citizens convicted of a felony are allowed to vote, regardless of the crime committed, absent government-granted exceptions to the policy. Governor McAuliffe’s act is a reminder that public support for giving ex-felons the right to vote after prison is significant, and growing—but this type of order doesn’t go far enough. Ex-felons should be able to vote, yes. But so should prisoners themselves.
On February 16, 2000, Scott Favreau, then 17, committed a crime that shattered a family and shocked the state of Vermont. In the early hours of the morning, he walked up to his foster mother, who was up grading high school English papers at the kitchen table, and shot her in the head with a .22 caliber rifle, immediately killing her. After leading police on a high-speed car chase, Favreau and his accomplice, the foster mother’s stepdaughter who was later found to be implicated in the crime, were arrested. For the small community around West Burke, Favreau’s murder of his guardian, Victoria Campbell-Beer, represented a rare act of violence that robbed it of one of its beloved schoolteachers. For Favreau, the crime marked the deplorable end to a tumultuous childhood largely defined by neglect and abuse, both physical and sexual, allegedly at the hands of his biological father.
Convicted felons behind bars in New Hampshire could get the right to vote under a proposal that is heading for a full vote by the House. If passed, the measure would put the state in the ranks of Vermont and Maine — the only two states where felons never lose their right to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But the bill, sponsored by four Democrats, faces an uphill battle after being deemed unworkable by the House Elections Law Committee on Thursday. The Department of Corrections took no position on the bill, but spokesman Jeff Lyons raised concerns about the impact on nearly 100 New Hampshire inmates incarcerated out of state and whether it would burden corrections staff. Currently, convicted felons in the Granite State are eligible to vote once released.
When Canadians vote in the federal election in October, thousands will cast their ballot from behind bars. Inmates in federal prisons and provincial jails are eligible to vote for a candidate in the riding where they lived before they were incarcerated. In the last federal election in 2011, voter turnout was 54 per cent in penitentiaries, not far below the 61 per cent who exercised their democratic right in the general population. “They are part of the polity and they want to be part of the democratic process,” Catherine Latimer, executive director of The John Howard Society of Canada, told CBC News.
Editorials: Veto of felon voting bill disenfranchised 40,000 Marylanders | Cory McCray/Baltimore Sun
After the death of Freddie Gray, leaders from Annapolis came into our neighborhoods, shot some hoops, attended church services and gave lip service about change. But those leaders have never endured the high levels of poverty, lack of access to fresh food, dilapidated housing or high levels of joblessness that plague those neighborhoods. That is why many community members were not convinced by their words. On Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan gave them more reason to be skeptical. At 2 p.m. on the Friday before a holiday weekend, when many people were already away on vacation, he vetoed House Bill 980, which restored voting rights to ex-felons upon their release from prison, rather than waiting until they’re off parole or probation.
Florida: Hillary Clinton wants to allow felons to vote. That could mean a lot in a state like Florida. | The Washington Post
While in Iowa on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton mentioned a policy reform that could affect the results of presidential races: Allowing ex-felons to vote. Clinton is not the first 2016 candidate to raise this issue, nor is it the first time that she’s done so. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has repeatedly advocated for restoring voting rights for felons convicted of certain crimes. At several points while she was in the Senate, including shortly after she announced her 2008 candidacy, Clinton introduced the Count Every Vote Act, which would have restored those rights to anyone not currently incarcerated or not on parole or probation for a felony. We’re still early in the 2016 campaign, so it’s hard to know if that’s still the boundary that Clinton sets. As it stands, people who are convicted of felonies but are on parole can or cannot vote depending on where they live, since rules on felon voting differ by state. The Sentencing Project has a handy primer on the differences. In 12 states, those convicted of a felony cannot vote even after having repaid their debt to society — sometimes for certain periods of time, sometimes only for certain felonies. (In two states, Maine and Vermont, there are no restrictions on the voting rights of felons, even if incarcerated.) In total, some 5.8 million people are barred from voting in the United States because of their criminal past, according to the Sentencing Project’s data.
Convicted felons should have their rights to vote restored once they’ve been released from prison, even if still on probation or parole, the Minnesota Senate voted Thursday. The move was spurred by activists who say felons should be encouraged. “If you’re still a citizen, don’t you deserve the right to participate in our democracy?” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. “Once they’re back out in the community, from Day One … they’re paying taxes, but they don’t have the right to vote on who their representatives are imposing those taxes?”
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.)
Editorials: Wisconsin Government Accountability Board works; it keeps felons from voting | Thomas H. Barland/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
The Legislative Audit Bureau’s report on the Government Accountability Board has generated a great deal of discussion, but out of that discourse has come some misinformation that needs to be cleared up. I want to assure the Legislature and the public that the GAB takes illegal voting seriously, and that strong protections are in place to prevent felons from voting in Wisconsin. In the relatively few cases in which felons have voted in recent years, they will not escape prosecution due to delayed felon voting audits by the GAB. Prior to every election, the GAB provided Wisconsin’s 1,852 municipal clerks with a list from the Department of Corrections of felons ineligible to vote. The clerks inactivated the felons’ listings on the Statewide Voter Registration System so that they could not receive an absentee ballot, register to vote late in the clerk’s office or register and vote if they showed up on election day. The GAB routinely followed up to ensure clerks were inactivating those felons.
A task force created to fix errors in Iowa’s database of ineligible felon voters met once for two hours, failing to resolve a problem that has disenfranchised at least a dozen people, records show. Secretary of State Matt Schultz formed the group in April after finding 12 cases in which errors on the 50,000-name list resulted in the wrongful rejection of ballots from non-felons or people who had their voting rights restored. Schultz said the panel would develop a “long-term solution to fix inaccuracies contained in the state’s felon file. More than four months passed before the group held its first and only meeting Aug. 29, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press under the public records law. “If we get done early, so be it,” then-Secretary of State general counsel Charlie Smithson emailed members before the meeting, scheduled for four hours.
Registered Ohio voters who end up in jail the weekend before the election should be allowed to cast an absentee ballot, a federal judge ruled yesterday. U.S. District Court Judge S. Arthur Spiegel decided in a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Justice & Policy Center that he saw “no value in taking away this fundamental right, even for a short period of time.” Spiegel said since people who could afford to post bail could get out of jail and vote, preventing those who could not afford to post bail from voting poses an “unconstitutional wealth-based voting restriction.” Attorneys for the center said at least 400 people who were eligible were unable to vote in 2012 because they were in jail the weekend before the election.
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.
A well-known prison inmate and bush lawyer has appeared in court again, this time on a video screen, to fight for the right to vote in the election next week. From behind bars, Arthur Taylor took his fight to the High Court in Auckland today. It’s been many years since Taylor was allowed a say in who governs New Zealand, a country he says is now on the wrong side of history. “Its now one of the only countries in the Western world that is denying all prisoners the vote,” he told the court via video link as he sat at a desk wearing an orange prison jacket.
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.
United Kingdom: Prisoners’ appeal to vote in Scottish independence referendum rejected | The Independent
Two prisoners, who argued that rules which bar them from voting in the Scottish independence referendum breach their human rights, have lost an appeal at the Supreme Court. The UK’s highest court dismissed claims brought by Leslie Moohan and Andrew Gillon following a day-long hearing in London on Thursday. A panel of Supreme Court Justices analysed provisions laid out in the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013, and considered whether a ban on prisoners voting was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and whether they breached the common law right to vote. The justices were told that both inmates want to vote in the referendum on September 18 but are not eligible under the Franchise Act.
Prisoners serving their sentences as well as parolees and probationers would be allowed to vote in New Jersey under newly introduced legislation, but only if they had served in the military. State Sen. Ronald Rice, a Vietnam War veteran, introduced the bill on Monday, saying those who sacrificed for their country should get special consideration in getting back their civic rights. “Those of us who fought in wars, we make mistakes like everyone else,” Rice (D-Essex) said. “But we fought for the country, too, and that should count for something.” Currently, convicted felons in New Jersey aren’t allowed to vote until they have served their full sentences, including prison time, parole and probation. The bill (S2050) comes three months after the nation’s top law-enforcement official, Attorney General Eric Holder, called on states to repeal laws that restrict voting for felons once they leave prison.
A House committee tried a last ditch effort to restore voting rights for former felons by attaching a version of House Bill 70 to a Senate bill that was dying in the House. Senate Bill 58 proposes a constitutional amendment that would give most felons who have completed their sentences their voting rights back immediately when their sentences are finished and they are no longer on probation or parole. It would, however, allow the legislature to enact through statute a waiting period of up to three years. The bill passed the House by an 85-13 vote and now goes to the Senate. “This is a ‘Hail Mary’ pass,” said state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who favors the bill.
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the main muse of the Civil Rights Summit taking place at the LBJ Presidential Library this week, legislation passed the following year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has brought forth many words from the Obama administration this week, many of which can be linked neatly to the 2014 midterms and where the Democratic Party sees itself in the future. His discussion of voting rights is framed by the civil rights movement and the once overwhelming and bipartisan support for expanding voter franchise. He mentions that Strom Thurmond voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in the ’80s, and that the Senate vote to reauthorize the law in 2006 was 98-0. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said before that vote, “As we reflect on the true wrongs that existed in the 1950s and 1960s and where those wrongs may have taken place, we owe it to history . . . to pay tribute to those who took the law and made it a reality.” Last year, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which means states with a history of discrimination that once needed preclearance for redistricting no longer require special attention from the Justice Department, unless Congress passes an amended Section 4, an unlikely prospect given the current congressional class. Many state legislatures reacted by passing legislation that often makes it harder to vote. There are new voter-ID laws, and early voting and same-day registration have been sanded away in many states. The conservative argument for these laws is that they help prevent voter fraud. Democrats respond that it also prevents their base from voting.
Kentucky could be heading for a historic change this year as it moves closer to abolishing its law banning felons from voting, thanks to a bipartisan effort in the state Capitol and a big assist from Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. The state has long had among the most restrictive felon voting rules, thus disenfranchising a high percentage of its voting-age population. Black residents have been disproportionately affected — more than one in five of voting age cannot cast a ballot. A long-running push by voting rights advocates to end these restrictions got a boost from Paul, who this week pushed a compromise in testimony before state lawmakers. Republicans in the legislature, who control the Senate, for the first time agreed to ease the ban. “It has the best chance it’s ever had,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been taking stands for justice lately, for which he is to be applauded. On Feb. 11, in a speech at Georgetown University, he issued a plea for states to lift bans on voting by ex-felons, also called returning citizens. On the heels of his earlier suggestion that prosecutors and legislators re-examine mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders and disparities in crack cocaine sentences, this latest call suggests a new pattern of priorities coming out of the office of the attorney general. The New York Times predicted Holder’s suggestions would “elevate issues of criminal justice and race in the president’s second term and create a lasting civil rights legacy.” Holder is reportedly the first attorney general to take up this cause. It has been a long time coming. Laws that deny ex-offenders the vote have a long and dark history. Although felons were prevented from voting in most states from the very beginning of the republic, after the Civil War, these laws were greatly expanded in the South — and virtually all felons in those states were black. The South’s loss of the Civil War in 1865 presented former slave owners with dual dilemmas. Their captive labor supply had been liberated, and those formerly involuntary workers were going to be allowed to vote. In the words of one former slave, “bottom rail on the top.” Soon after the withdrawal of federal troops in 1877, however, white entrepreneurs of the South solved both problems with two linked concepts: convict leasing and felon disenfranchisement. First, massive numbers of African-Americans were arrested for little or no reason and sent to work in mines, mills and fields, creating an almost limitless supply of effectively free labor. Under newly enhanced (and in some cases newly created) laws, these ex-felons were then forever after denied the right to vote. This process also planted in the American psyche a viciously tenacious stereotype of African-American criminality. Douglas Blackmon’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book “Slavery by Another Name” describes these circumstances in excruciating detail: The depraved system has made enduring marks on today’s criminal justice landscape, in the form of felon disenfranchisement laws and racially disparate arrest, conviction and sentencing practices. Michelle Alexander, in her book “The New Jim Crow,” compares these laws and today’s mass incarceration of inmates of color to historical injustices.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said Friday that he prefers a Kentucky constitutional amendment that would restore the voting rights of convicted felons without strings attached, rather than one backed by Senate Republicans that puts numerous restrictions them. “The bill in the House, which I support, would let you, once you served your time for a nonviolent felony, would let you get your voting rights back. I support that,” Paul, R-Ky., said while attending a Jefferson County Republican Party fundraising event that was focused on broadening the party’s appeal. But Paul said he still hopes some agreement between the House and Senate is in the offing, and that a bill can be passed by the end of the 2014 session of the General Assembly.