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More With Felony Convictions Regaining The Right To Vote

Last week, thousands of people with felony convictions regained the right to vote in New Mexico, the latest in a growing number of states seeking to reintegrate residents into society by allowing them to participate in elections after leaving prison. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a wide-reaching voting rights package into law. The measure includes broader mail-in ballot access for Native Americans, expands same-day voter registration, and adds new voting rights for people with felony convictions. The new law ends the practice of canceling a person’s voter registration upon their felony conviction, scraps a requirement that people finish probation or parole before being allowed to vote, and gives exiting inmates the opportunity to register to vote on leaving prison, Stateline reports. “The more someone has a say in their community, the more invested they are in the community, the more likely they’re going to be a productive member of that community,” said state Sen. Katy Duhigg. “Re-enfranchising folks who are leaving incarceration is a really important and effective way to reduce recidivism.”

Nationally, 4.6 million Americans are locked out of the democratic process because of laws targeting people with felony convictions, according to The Sentencing Project. Fourteen states allow ballot access after parole or probation, while six states require all financial debts to be paid. In a handful of other states, it’s up to the governor to decide whether someone with a felony conviction can vote again. New Mexico, along with Minnesota, are the most recent states to follow 21 others in allowing people previously convicted of felonies to vote upon leaving prison. By denying the vote to people with felony convictions and adding waiting periods or requiring that all fines be paid, states are denying people their rights as citizens, said Reggie Thedford of Stand Up America, a grassroots organization fighting for reforms. Republicans have opposed the bills over concerns for victims’ rights and fairness. Opponents argue that people with felony convictions should serve their sentences, pay all fines and fees, and complete parole and probation periods before being allowed to vote. Some lawmakers want to create higher barriers to enfranchisement. “When you commit a crime, you are violating the rights of another individual,” said Wisconsin state Rep. Shae Sortwell, a Republican who is sponsoring legislation that would require people with felony convictions to pay all fees before regaining voting privileges. “Once the victim’s rights have been restored, then we talk about restoring the rights of the convicted individual.”


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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