Wyoming considers restoring felon voting rights


Bears, like this one in Yellowstone, still can’t vote (Photo: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

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.

Bob Lampert, director of the state Department of Corrections, told the Associated Press that some studies suggest allowing people to vote encourages them to re-engage in society after serving their time.

“The data suggest that people who have their rights restored and engage in the voting process are significantly less likely to come back to prison than those who fail to engage in the voting process,” Lampert told AP. “So there is some data that suggest that it makes a difference.”

Lampert will not take a position on the bill when he testifies before the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to meet next week to consider the proposal. The legislature has voted against restoring felon voting rights in the past.

Felons who have finished serving their time are eligible to register to vote in 13 states and the District of Columbia, from bright red Utah and North Dakota to deep blue Oregon and Rhode Island. In Maine and Vermont, even those serving prison terms are eligible to vote by absentee ballot.

On the other end of the spectrum, felons are permanently disenfranchised in three states — Iowa, Kentucky and Florida — according to the ACLU. In 21 states, felons can vote upon completion of their sentences, parole or probation.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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