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Justice Reform

The United States has come a long way to ensure equal voting rights for all Americans. However, one population that has been neglected is those previously incarcerated. Many have been unable to vote in the United States until a few years ago, when some states started reforming this law.

The National Conference of State Legislatures published an article detailing felon voting rights. The general trend recently has been towards reinstating voting rights for convicted fellows, but this does vary by state policy. Some states have fallen under the automatic restoration category, but this does not mean that voting rights and registration happen that quickly. First, prison officials inform election officials that an individual’s rights have been restored, then it is that person’s responsibility to re-register to vote. 

Some states never took away an individual’s right to vote once convicted or after serving their time including the District of Colombia, Maine and Vermont. In 16 states, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated and then when released have the ability to vote again. These states include Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Utah. In 21 states, individuals incarcerated lose their voting rights during incarceration and typically while on parole and/or probation or for some period of time after release. Usually, many have outstanding fines, fees or restitution that they must pay before their voting rights are restored. Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin are all states that enforce this. Finally, in 11 states, felons lost their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes or require a governor’s pardon to have their voting rights restored, have additional time periods to wait before they’re restored or require additional actions. These last few states are Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming.

Individuals deserve the chance to have their voice heard and representation in each state. especially after they have completed their sentences and are working hard to be a productive member of society. Without the right to vote, the system cannot provide adequate care or change for those previously convicted who do not have voting rights. States are slowly changing laws to allow voting rights to those previously incarcerated to be restored so if you live in one of the states that allows you to vote, take advantage.

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Justice Reform
A highly debated topic in the United States is the laws forbidding convicted individuals, or those with a criminal past, the right to vote in elections. It creates unfair election outcomes as a high percentage of the United States population does not get a say in who is elected. The Sentencing Project stated that 6 million Americans were unable to vote in the 2018 midterms because they had a felony conviction. This is a significant number of voices unheard in America that are most effected by election outcomes. However, some states are hoping to change this. The Guardian posted an article about how Washington D.C. is working on becoming the first state to allow those with felony convictions to vote.

With this new measure in place and being passed by the city council last week, 4,500 people could be affected in Washington D.C.. “I am hopeful that the District’s action will inspire states to recognize the value of universal suffrage and the engagement of all its citizens,” said Nicole Porter, Director of Advocacy at the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group. The United States has some of the strictest voting policies compared to other countries in the world. Some states do have laws that after a certain period of time, convicted individuals are able to vote, but this is not popular in most. Over the years, people have been advocating more to restore voting rights for people released from prison. They deserve a second chance and to have a say in who represents them in the government.

This Washington D.C. measure is unique though, by working on restoring voting rights while the individual is still incarcerated. The District is following in the footsteps of Maine and Vermont, as they are the only two states that allow those convicted of felonies to vote in prison. There is hope that the new law will be approved by the Washington D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser, to continue to fight for justice reform for those in and out of prison. Many previously convicted felons work hard to turn their lives around post-incarceration and deserve to be able to vote, without their past actions continuing to haunt them.
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