Senator Russ Feingold and Secretary Jack Kemp joined together last week to propose the Democracy Restoration Act -- a federal law that seeks to restore voting rights to U.S. citizens on probation and parole. The proposal is noteworthy for several reasons, not the least of which is that it is made by two prominent political figures: a Democrat and a Republican. The bipartisan proposal makes it clear that restoring voting rights is about democracy, not about politics.
More than 5.3 million American citizens are denied the vote in our country because of a criminal conviction in their past. Nearly four million are people who have been released from prison but continue to be disenfranchised for years, often for decades, and sometimes for life.
As Senator Feingold and Secretary Kemp note, there has been significant momentum in the states to end these draconian disenfranchisement laws. In the last decade, 16 states have eased voting restrictions on people with conviction histories. In 2007 alone, Florida, Maryland, and Rhode Island all took steps to restore voting rights. But disenfranchisement is a national problem. Thirty-five states continue to deny the vote to people who have been released from prison and rejoined society.