DC Lawmakers Propose the Restoration of Voting Rights to Incarcerated People

A group of lawmakers in Washington, DC is hoping to restore voting rights for people who are still incarcerated.Democratic Councilmember Robert White introduced the Restore the Vote Amendment Act of 2019 to the DC Council on Tuesday, June 4 to restore voting rights for incarcerated people who are residents in DC.

“I remind people that there is no provision in the Constitution removing the right to vote for people who have committed felonies. And those who have been convicted do not lose their Constitutional protections,” White said during a press conference on Tuesday. “They do not lose their civil rights. They do not lose their citizenship. Why, then, would they lose their most fundamental democratic right?”

The bill has the support of six out of 13 DC Council members, The Washington Post reported. The proposed piece of legislation would repeal the 1955 law that states that incarcerated people are not allowed to vote, according to the publication. During the press conference, White noted that most incarcerated people in DC and across the country are people of color.

“I would argue that this disparity reflects deeply inequitable laws, and the people bearing the brunt of failed laws have no vote with which to hold officials accountable,” White said.On Tuesday, Attorney General Karl Racine said he supported White’s bill in a statement on Twitter.

“When people violate the law, we must hold them accountable, but we shouldn’t strip them of their rights as citizens,” the statement read. “Most countries in the world recognize that incarcerated people will eventually return to their communities, and that ensuring that they remain active participants with their families and community during a period of incarceration enhances the likelihood that they will not engage in wrongdoing upon release.”

“We also know that when the federal government stripped incarcerated District residents of their right to vote 64 years ago, it disproportionately affected communities of color,” the statement from the attorney general continued. “As the District fights for voting rights and representation in our democracy, we must make sure that those rights are extended to all of our residents and that we right a historic wrong.”

In DC and 14 states in the US, incarcerated people lose their right to vote while they are serving their sentence, and, once they are released from prison, their voting rights are restored, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). There are 22 states where incarcerated people lose their rights while serving time and while on parole or probation. Incarcerated people in 12 states in the US could lose their voting rights indefinitely for certain crimes and require a governor’s pardon for their voting rights to be restored, according to the NCSL. There are only two states, Vermont and Maine, where incarcerated people are allowed to vote.

During an April town hall meeting in Iowa, Senator Bernie Sanders said more states in the country should consider allowing incarcerated people to vote. “In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” the Democratic presidential hopeful previously said. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”

Eric E. Sterling, executive director of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, previously told The North Star that prohibiting people who are incarcerated from voting can cause them to feel separated from the rest of the outside community. “By denying people the critical civic right to vote, it is a powerful stigma, and it is deeply psychologically undermining,” Sterling previously said.

Following Sanders’ comments, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence criticized his idea of allowing incarcerated people to vote during their speeches at the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in April, The New York Times previously reported.

“Let the Boston bomber vote — he should be voting, right?” Trump said during his speech. “I don’t think so. Let terrorists that are in prison vote, I don’t think so. Can you believe it? But this is where some of these people are coming from.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.