Text: S.1516 — 111th Congress (2009-2010)All Information (Except Text)

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Introduced in Senate (07/24/2009)

 
[Congressional Bills 111th Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
[S. 1516 Introduced in Senate (IS)]

111th CONGRESS
  1st Session
                                S. 1516

 To secure the Federal voting rights of persons who have been released 
                          from incarceration.


_______________________________________________________________________


                   IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

                             July 24, 2009

 Mr. Feingold (for himself, Mr. Whitehouse, and Mr. Cardin) introduced 
the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee 
                            on the Judiciary

_______________________________________________________________________

                                 A BILL


 
 To secure the Federal voting rights of persons who have been released 
                          from incarceration.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the 
United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the ``Democracy Restoration Act of 2009''.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

    The Congress makes the following findings:
            (1) The right to vote is the most basic constitutive act of 
        citizenship. Regaining the right to vote reintegrates offenders 
        into free society, helping to enhance public safety.
            (2) Article I, section 4 of the Constitution of the United 
        States grants Congress ultimate supervisory power over Federal 
        elections, an authority which has repeatedly been upheld by the 
        Supreme Court.
            (3) Basic constitutional principles of fairness and equal 
        protection require an equal opportunity for Americans to vote 
        in Federal elections. The right to vote may not be abridged or 
        denied by the United States or by any State on account of race, 
        color, gender or previous condition of servitude. The 14th, 
        15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments to the Constitution 
        empower Congress to enact measures to protect the right to vote 
        in Federal elections.
            (4) There are three areas where discrepancies in State laws 
        regarding felony convictions lead to unfairness in Federal 
        elections--
                    (A) there is no uniform standard for voting in 
                Federal elections which leads to an unfair disparity 
                and unequal participation in Federal elections based 
                solely on where a person lives;
                    (B) laws governing the restoration of voting rights 
                after a felony conviction vary throughout the country 
                and persons in some States can easily regain their 
                voting rights while in other States persons effectively 
                lose their right to vote permanently; and
                    (C) State disenfranchisement laws 
                disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities.
            (5) Disenfranchisement results from varying State laws that 
        restrict voting while under some form of criminal justice 
        supervision or after the completion of a felony sentence in 
        some States. Two States do not disenfranchise felons at all 
        (Maine and Vermont). Forty-eight States and the District of 
        Columbia have disenfranchisement laws that deprive convicted 
        offenders of the right to vote while they are in prison. In 35 
        States, convicted offenders may not vote while they are on 
        parole and 30 of these States disenfranchise felony 
        probationers as well. In 10 States, a conviction can result in 
        lifetime disenfranchisement.
            (6) An estimated 5,300,000 Americans, or about 1 in 41 
        adults, currently cannot vote as a result of a felony 
        conviction. Nearly 4,000,000 (74 percent) of the 5,300,000 
        disqualified voters are not in prison, but are on probation or 
        parole, or are ex-offenders. Approximately 2,000,000 of those 
        individuals are individuals who have completed their entire 
        sentence, including probation and parole, yet remain 
        disenfranchised.
            (7) In those States that disenfranchise ex-offenders, the 
        right to vote can be regained in theory, but in practice this 
        possibility is often granted in a nonuniform and potentially 
        discriminatory manner. Offenders must either obtain a pardon or 
        order from the Governor or action by the parole or pardon 
        board, depending on the offense and State. Offenders convicted 
        of a Federal offense often have additional barriers to 
        regaining voting rights.
            (8) State disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact 
        racial and ethnic minorities. Eight percent of the African-
        American population, or 2,000,000 African-Americans, are 
        disenfranchised. Given current rates of incarceration, 
        approximately one in three of the next generation of African-
        American men will be disenfranchised at some point during their 
        lifetime. Hispanic citizens are also disproportionately 
        disenfranchised based upon their disproportionate 
        representation in the criminal justice system.
            (9) Disenfranchising citizens who have been convicted of a 
        felony offense and who are living and working in the community 
        serves no compelling State interest and hinders their 
        rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
            (10) State disenfranchisement laws can suppress electoral 
        participation among eligible voters by discouraging voting 
        among family and community members of disenfranchised persons. 
        Future electoral participation by the children of 
        disenfranchised parents may be impacted as well.
            (11) The United States is the only Western democracy that 
        permits the permanent denial of voting rights to individuals 
        with felony convictions.

SEC. 3. RIGHTS OF CITIZENS.

    The right of an individual who is a citizen of the United States to 
vote in any election for Federal office shall not be denied or abridged 
because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless 
such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional 
institution or facility at the time of the election.

SEC. 4. ENFORCEMENT.

    (a) Attorney General.--The Attorney General may, in a civil action, 
obtain such declaratory or injunctive relief as is necessary to remedy 
a violation of this Act.
    (b) Private Right of Action.--
            (1) In general.--A person who is aggrieved by a violation 
        of this Act may provide written notice of the violation to the 
        chief election official of the State involved.
            (2) Relief.--Except as provided in paragraph (3), if the 
        violation is not corrected within 90 days after receipt of a 
        notice under paragraph (1), or within 20 days after receipt of 
        the notice if the violation occurred within 120 days before the 
        date of an election for Federal office, the aggrieved person 
        may, in a civil action, obtain declaratory or injunctive relief 
        with respect to the violation.
            (3) Exception.--If the violation occurred within 30 days 
        before the date of an election for Federal office, the 
        aggrieved person need not provide notice to the chief election 
        official of the State under paragraph (1) before bringing a 
        civil action to obtain declaratory or injunctive relief with 
        respect to the violation.

SEC. 5. NOTIFICATION OF RESTORATION OF VOTING RIGHTS.

    (a) State Notification.--
            (1) Notification.--On the date determined under paragraph 
        (2), each State shall notify in writing any individual who has 
        been convicted of a criminal offense under the law of that 
        State that such individual has the right to vote in an election 
        for Federal office pursuant to the Democracy Restoration Act 
        and may register to vote in any such election.
            (2) Date of notification.--
                    (A) Felony conviction.--In the case of such an 
                individual who has been convicted of a felony, the 
                notification required under paragraph (1) shall be 
                given on the date on which the individual--
                            (i) is sentenced to serve only a term of 
                        probation; or
                            (ii) is released from the custody of that 
                        State (other than to the custody of another 
                        State or the Federal Government to serve a term 
                        of imprisonment for a felony conviction).
                    (B) Misdemeanor conviction.--In the case of such an 
                individual who has been convicted of a misdemeanor, the 
                notification required under paragraph (1) shall be 
                given on the date on which such individual is sentenced 
                by a State court.
    (b) Federal Notification.--
            (1) Notification.--On the date determined under paragraph 
        (2), the Director of the Bureau of Prisons shall notify in 
        writing any individual who has been convicted of a criminal 
        offense under Federal law that such individual has the right to 
        vote in an election for Federal office pursuant to the 
        Democracy Restoration Act and may register to vote in any such 
        election.
            (2) Date of notification.--
                    (A) Felony conviction.--In the case of such an 
                individual who has been convicted of a felony, the 
                notification required under paragraph (1) shall be 
                given on the date on which the individual--
                            (i) is sentenced to serve only a term of 
                        probation by a court established by an Act of 
                        Congress; or
                            (ii) is released from the custody of the 
                        Bureau of Prisons (other than to the custody of 
                        a State to serve a term of imprisonment for a 
                        felony conviction).
                    (B) Misdemeanor conviction.--In the case of such an 
                individual who has been convicted of a misdemeanor, the 
                notification required under paragraph (1) shall be 
                given on the date on which such individual is sentenced 
                by a State court.

SEC. 6. DEFINITIONS.

    For purposes of this Act:
            (1) Correctional institution or facility.--The term 
        ``correctional institution or facility'' means any prison, 
        penitentiary, jail, or other institution or facility for the 
        confinement of individuals convicted of criminal offenses, 
        whether publicly or privately operated, except that such term 
        does not include any residential community treatment center (or 
        similar public or private facility).
            (2) Election.--The term ``election'' means--
                    (A) a general, special, primary, or runoff 
                election;
                    (B) a convention or caucus of a political party 
                held to nominate a candidate;
                    (C) a primary election held for the selection of 
                delegates to a national nominating convention of a 
                political party; or
                    (D) a primary election held for the expression of a 
                preference for the nomination of persons for election 
                to the office of President.
            (3) Federal office.--The term ``Federal office'' means the 
        office of President or Vice President of the United States, or 
        of Senator or Representative in, or Delegate or Resident 
        Commissioner to, the Congress of the United States.
            (4) Probation.--The term ``probation'' means probation, 
        imposed by a Federal, State, or local court, with or without a 
        condition on the individual involved concerning--
                    (A) the individual's freedom of movement;
                    (B) the payment of damages by the individual;
                    (C) periodic reporting by the individual to an 
                officer of the court; or
                    (D) supervision of the individual by an officer of 
                the court.

SEC. 7. RELATION TO OTHER LAWS.

    (a) State Laws Relating to Voting Rights.--Nothing in this Act 
shall be construed to prohibit the States from enacting any State law 
which affords the right to vote in any election for Federal office on 
terms less restrictive than those established by this Act.
    (b) Certain Federal Acts.--The rights and remedies established by 
this Act are in addition to all other rights and remedies provided by 
law, and neither rights and remedies established by this Act shall 
supersede, restrict, or limit the application of the Voting Rights Act 
of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973 et seq.) or the National Voter Registration Act 
(42 U.S.C. 1973-gg).

SEC. 8. FEDERAL PRISON FUNDS.

    No State, unit of local government, or other person may receive or 
use, to construct or otherwise improve a prison, jail, or other place 
of incarceration, any Federal grant amounts unless that person has in 
effect a program under which each individual incarcerated in that 
person's jurisdiction who is a citizen of the United States is 
notified, upon release from such incarceration, of that individual's 
rights under section 3.

SEC. 9. EFFECTIVE DATE.

    This Act shall apply to citizens of the United States voting in any 
election for Federal office held after the date of the enactment of 
this Act.
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