Story at a glance

  • After protests broke out following the police killing of George Floyd, the District of Columbia passed an emergency police reform bill.
  • A second iteration of that legislation will also grant voting rights to incarcerated felons, although temporarily.
  • Maine and Vermont are the only two states that have never denied voting rights to felons.

The District of Columbia will be the first place in the United States to restore voting rights to incarcerated felons, joining two states that never took those rights away.

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Councilmember Robert White first introduced a bill last year to allow residents serving felony sentences to cast absentee ballots, a right which has been denied to them since 1955, when Congress took over governing D.C. That legislation is now included as a provision of a second emergency police reform bill passed on Tuesday by the city council, an amended version of an earlier bill passed in the wake of protests over George Floyd’s death. 


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Changes to the new bill include some restrictions regarding use of force by police, extending the deadline to release body camera footage and a process for a victim’s next-of-kin to decline consent to release body camera footage. But the emergency legislation will expire in 90 days, or earlier if D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser chooses to veto it, and so will this provision, unless the council approves a permanent version before the election in November. 


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Bowser has previously expressed her support for the restoration of voting rights to felons. Last year, Florida returned voting rights to residents convicted of felonies once their sentences are complete.

The issue has gained momentum along with the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the nation’s capital and across the country. Advocates say the prohibition disenfranchised Black voters, who are disproportionately arrested and charged for crimes in the United States and make up a majority of D.C.’s population. 


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Published on Jul 09, 2020