Senate bill allows released criminals to vote

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill Thursday that would give criminals the right to vote after they are released from prison.

S. 2235, the Democracy Restoration Act, would restore voting rights to the nearly 3 million people who cannot vote even after they’re released from prison because they have been convicted of a felony.

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“The right to vote is foundational to our democracy and to our values as a nation,” Leahy said. “Included in our basic democratic ideals is the notion that all citizens, including those who have served sentences and been released from prison, are afforded the opportunity to reintegrate into our communities.”

Some states have already restored these voting rights. But 35 states don’t let convicts vote while on parole, and 11 states have a lifetime ban on voting.

“The patchwork of state laws leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation in Federal elections based solely on where an individual lives, in addition to the racial disparities inherent in our judicial system,” Cardin said. “Congress has a responsibility to remedy these problems and enact a nationwide standard for restoration of voting rights.”

Cardin said his bill would reduce recidivism rates because former prisoners would feel reintegrated into the community if they have the right to vote.

“When prisoners are released, they are expected to obey the law, get a job, and pay taxes as they seek a fair shot at being rehabilitated and reintegrated into their community,” Cardin said. “Along with these responsibilities and obligations of citizenship should be the right to vote.”

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has a companion measure in the House. 

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