Voting Rights for Ex-convicts

A NY Times article dated November 3, 2012, Wrongly Turning Away Ex-Offenders, addresses state laws dating back to Reconstruction that deny the vote to people who have committed felonies barring about 5.85 million people from voting in the 2012 election. Policies on restoration of the voting franchise to convicted felons among the 50 states are so inconsistent that they create confusion among for both former offenders who wish to regain the right to vote as well as the officials charged with implementing the laws. See  the State by State Chart of Felon Voting Laws on the website. This past October, the Minnesota Supreme in Council on Crime and Justice and Enjoli Rosas v. Mark Ritchie issued an Order in a case where a probation office incorrectly told a voter who pleaded guilty to felony possession of marijuana, was placed on 5 years of probation, and received a stay of adjudication that she could not vote and doing so would be a new felony offense. After the State admitted its mistake regarding the petitioner’s ability to vote, the Supreme Court dismissed the case as moot. However, the case illustrates that kind of misinformation that discourages legally eligible voters from registering to vote and may cause confusion for former offenders who, unaware of their state’s restrictions, then register and vote, unwittingly committing a new crime.

Other countries address felony re-enfranchisement much differently. The Australian Senate recently voted to amend the Electoral and Referendum Act to give the right to vote to persons who are serving sentences of three years or less. The amendment came after the High Court of Australia 2006 ruling in Roach v Electoral Commissioner on the validity of Commonwealth legislation that prevented prisoners from voting. In 2002, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in Sauvé v. Canada that any ban on prison voting violates Canada’s Constitution and is counterproductive to the governments’ professed goal of promoting civil responsibility and respect for the rule of law.

Last year, Brooklyn Law School Professor Susan N. Herman stated in a NY Times article, Restore the Right to Vote, that she does not view voting as a “privilege” and that “the idea that our democracy is only open to a chosen few flies in the face of decades of struggle to democratize the fundamental right to vote.” The Brooklyn Law School Library has a number of items in its collection on the subject of the loss of political rights including suffrage for ex-convicts in the United States including The Disenfranchisement of Ex-Felons by Elizabeth Hull (Call # KF9747.Z95 H84 2006) and My First Vote, a compilation of stories by the Brennan Center for Justice from people across the country who voted for the first time in November 2008 after having lost, and then regained, their right to vote following a criminal conviction.