State Watch

Georgia Democratic legislators introduce bill for felon voting rights

A group of Democratic state legislators in Georgia has announced an effort seeking to reinstate voting rights to former felons.

State Rep. Josh McLaurin (D), who is championing the bill, referred to it as "morally and legally" the right thing to do, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

"Over 200,000 of our fellow citizens in Georgia are denied (voting rights) because of a racist policy that was enacted nearly 150 years ago," McLaurin said in a statement to The Hill.

Currently, felons in the Peach State can only vote if they've completed their sentence. The law states that those convicted of felonies "involving moral turpitude" are ineligible for voter registration until their sentences have been completed, including any outstanding fines, probation and parole.

However, the AJC noted that the "moral turpitude" definition is broad and has been interpreted by election officials to mean that all felons are discredited from voting.

Georgia also has the highest number of people on probation in the country, NPR affiliate WABE reported, meaning changing the voting stipulation could make a large impact on the state's number of eligible voters.

The Sentencing Project, which seeks to reform the the criminal justice system to address racial disparities, argued that current restriction barring those who were previously convicted on felony charges from being able to vote disproportionately affects minority populations - and was a point McLaurin also raised.

"After the Civil War, Georgia adopted a policy of disenfranchising people convicted of felonies as a strategy to exclude Black people from participating in democracy," he said.

"The denial of voting rights means elected officials are not forced to be accountable to these citizens," McLaurin told The Hill.

McLaurin argued that as taxpaying citizens, felons who complete their terms are rightfully owed voting rights, AJC reported.

"The real question is, are these people citizens and, as citizens, do they have the right for their voice to be heard by elected officials? And the answer to that is yes," he said.

The AJC notes that the bill is unlikely to pass, as a similar measure was shot down by a state Senate committee in December 2019.

During the 2020 election cycle, a number of states made amendments to their felony voting restrictions, including Florida, which changed its law to allow felons to vote as long as their outstanding debts and fees had been paid.

Nevada was another state that changed its voting laws to allow certain categories of felons to vote. The amendment allowed boxing champion Mike Tyson to cast a vote in a presidential election for the first time, as he had been convicted of rape and deviant sexual conduct in 1992.

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