Felon voting rights expanded in 23 states
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 1:37 PM
A study of felony disenfranchisement laws has found that 800,000 former felons have been returned to the voter rolls in the past decade.
A push by criminal justice advocates and civil rights groups to rewrite state laws that sometimes place lifetime voting bans on felons has resulted in 23 states amending their policies since 1997 to expand voter eligibility, according to a report out by the Sentencing Project.
Nine states repealed or reduced their lifetime voting bans, and eight states made it easier for former felons to appeal to have their voting rights restored.
Those changes were made despite "political challenges that hinder reform and can make it difficult for elected officials to extend civil rights to persons with felony convictions," said Nicole Porter, author of the report and the Sentencing Project's state advocacy coordinator.
Existing policies vary from state to state, with Kentucky and Virginia denying ex-felons the right to vote - even after they have completed parole or probation sentences. Both states require individuals to apply to the governor for restoration of civil rights.
Other states have changed those policies. Rhode Island repealed a state prohibition on parolees voting, resulting in the restoration of voting rights to more than 15,000 people. Maryland made a similar change resulting in 52,000 ex-felons regaining the right to vote.
Changes to voting laws have come from both Republicans and Democrats.
In Florida, black state legislators led the fight for a decade before populist Republican Gov. Charlie Crist pushed through the change shortly after being elected in 2006. The legislation permits many nonviolent felons to vote as long as they have no charges pending, have paid restitution and have completed probation. About 152,000 ex-felons are now on voter rolls there.
Then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) restored voting rights to almost 100,000 ex-felons, and New Mexico's repeal of a lifetime voting ban for felons affected 69,000 people.