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More States May Grant Voting Access To Felons

Several state legislatures appear poised this year to continue a trend of revisiting rules for granting voting rights to people who were convicted of a felony, reports NPR. In Minnesota, where Democrats last year gained full control of state government, more than 50,000 people previously convicted of a felony are expected to regain voting access immediately under legislation sent to Gov. Tim Walz. The law would restore voting rights after someone is no longer in custody; currently, former inmates need to complete all parts of their sentence, including parole and probation, before getting back access to the ballot. Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project said there is much momentum after Minnesota's measure in states with similar pending legislation. Some Democratic-led states are exploring going further, with lawmakers in Oregon and Illinois offering proposals that would see their states join the few places where incarcerated felons never lose the right to vote.

Access to the ballot after a felony conviction varies by state. Currently, 11 states deny voting rights to people after they finish their full sentences, including parole and probation, with additional action required in some states. Last year, about 4.6 million people nationwide were unable to vote because of a past conviction, the Sentencing Project said, about 2% of the voting age population. While almost 70 bills have been introduced this year to restore voting rights to ex-prisoners, according to the left-leaning Democracy Docket, Porter said a few states are considering rolling back rights for the formerly incarcerated. "There are two conversations happening in the country," she said. "One is about expanding rights and then one about suppressing or undermining rights." In 2018, Florida voters approved a measure restoring voting rights to most people who completed their prison sentences. However, Republican lawmakers passed a law requiring them to fulfill every part of their sentence, including paying any fees or fines, in order to regain access to the ballot. Lawmakers and state officials did not create a database or system for the formerly incarcerated to check whether they had regained their rights. The Sentencing Project estimated that about 934,000 Floridians who had completed their sentences remained disenfranchised.


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