INTRODUCTION OF THE DEMOCRACY RESTORATION ACT OF 2018; Congressional Record Vol. 164, No. 126
(Extensions of Remarks - July 26, 2018)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E1091-E1092]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




         INTRODUCTION OF THE DEMOCRACY RESTORATION ACT OF 2018

                                 ______
                                 

                          HON. JERROLD NADLER

                              of new york

                    in the house of representatives

                        Thursday, July 26, 2018

  Mr. NADLER. Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to introduce the 
Democracy Restoration Act of 2018. This legislation will serve to 
clarify and, in some cases, expand the voting rights of people with 
felony convictions, the next logical step in restoring their full 
participation in civic life.
  The United States remains one of the world's strictest nations when 
it comes to denying the right to vote to citizens convicted of crimes. 
An estimated 6.1 million citizens are ineligible to vote in federal 
elections due to their status as ex-offenders. More than four and a 
half million of these disqualified voters are not in prison, but are on 
probation, parole, or have completed their sentence. Due to differences 
in state laws and rates of criminal punishment, states vary widely in 
the practice of disenfranchisement, demonstrating a critical federal 
interest for uniform standards.
  Clarification of the law on restoration of ex-offender voting rights 
is a critical next step in criminal justice reform. In 2007, President 
George W. Bush signed the Second Chance Act into law, signaling a 
bipartisan awareness of the importance of enacting policies that assist 
in the reintegration of ex-offenders into their communities. Recent 
public opinion research has also shown that a significant majority of 
Americans favor voting rights for people on probation or parole, who 
are currently supervised in their communities, as well as for 
individuals who have completed their sentences. This legislation both 
captures the bipartisan spirit of the Bush administration and is 
consistent with evolving public opinion on rehabilitation of ex-
offenders.
  From a constitutional basis, the Democracy Restoration Act is a 
narrowly crafted effort to expand voting rights for people with felony 
convictions, while protecting state prerogatives to generally establish 
voting qualifications. The legislation would only apply to persons who 
are not in prison, and would only apply to federal elections. As such, 
our bill is fully consistent with constitutional requirements 
established by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions upholding 
federal voting rights laws.
  Since this legislation was first introduced in 2008, the Sentencing 
Project reports 27 states have amended felony disenfranchisement 
policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter 
eligibility. These reforms have resulted in an estimated more than 
800,000 citizens regaining their voting rights. Yet, despite these 
reforms, the overall rate of ex-offender disenfranchisement has not 
abated and continues to have a disproportionate impact on communities 
of color. Many of the state reforms still rely on lengthy waiting 
periods or clemency and several feature burdensome procedural hurdles 
that have proven difficult to navigate for persons seeking to restore 
their voting rights. As a result, approximately 50 percent of the 
entire disenfranchised population is clustered in 12 states, with 
Florida alone accounting for 48 percent of the post-sentence 
population.
  Proponents of ex-offender disenfranchisement have offered few 
justifications for continuing the practice. In fact, the strongest 
empirical research suggests that prohibitions on the right to vote 
undermine both our voting system and the fundamental rights of people 
with felony convictions. A series of studies make clear that civic 
engagement is pivotal in the transition from incarceration and 
discouraging repeat offenses. Disenfranchisement laws only serve to 
isolate and alienate ex-offenders, creating additional obstacles in 
their attempt to successfully put the past behind them by fully 
reintegrating into society. But that is only half the story.
  The current patchwork of state laws has created widespread confusion 
among election officials throughout the country and has served as the 
justification for flawed voter purges. For example, although people 
with misdemeanor convictions never lose the right to vote in Ohio, in 
2008, 30 percent of election officials in the state responded 
incorrectly or expressed uncertainty about whether individuals with 
misdemeanor convictions could vote. A similar survey by the Nebraska 
ACLU in advance of the 2016 general election determined that about half 
of state election officials gave out the wrong information about former 
felons' voting rights. Given the general confusion by election 
officials on restoration of voting rights, many ex-offenders are 
hesitant to even attempt registration, depriving eligible voters of 
their rights. Only federal law can conclusively resolve the ambiguities 
in this area plaguing our voting system.
  For many years, voting restoration legislation has been supported by 
a broad coalition of groups interested in voting and civil rights, 
including the NAACP, ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Brennan Center for 
Justice, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, among many others. 
This coalition has expanded to include many law enforcement groups 
including the American Probation and Parole Association, the 
Association of Paroling Authorities International, and the National 
Black Police Association, among others, who recognize that allowing 
people to vote after release from prison helps rebuild ties to the 
community that motivate law-abiding behavior.
  The denial of voting rights by many states to ex-offenders represents 
a vestige from a time when suffrage was denied to whole classes of our 
population based on race, gender, religion, national origin and 
property. I believe that our

[[Page E1092]]

nation fails not only people with felony convictions by denying them 
the right to vote, but the rest of our society that has struggled 
throughout its history to ensure that its citizenry be part of 
legitimate and inclusive elections. It is long overdue that these 
restrictions be relegated to unenlightened history.

                          ____________________