Restoration of Voting Rights for Ex-Felons Sure to be a Hot Topic

Participation in the Democratic Process is Important for Both Rehabilitation and Reintegration

The Wyoming state Legislature will convene in Cheyenne on January 10th at noon, and one bill under consideration is an effort to automatically restore voting rights for nonviolent felons upon completion of their sentences.

The current law in Wyoming already allows some nonviolent felons to be reinstated. However, it requires an application process that is difficult to navigate, at best, and thus a bipartisan group of legislators is introducing a fix. 

“Most of these people are on the edge of giving up on society as it is. It is disingenuous for us as a society to make it that difficult for nonviolent felons to get their voting rights back.” -- Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, lead sponsor of the Wyoming bill

This debate is not confined to Wyoming, of course. Numerous other states will consider measures that address many of the draconian laws or administrative procedures currently in place that keep people from exercising the fundamental right to vote.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), state approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary widely. For example, Maine and Vermont never remove voting rights for felons, even during incarceration. Meanwhile, ex-felons in Florida, Iowa and Virginia lose their rights permanently. All other states fall somewhere in between.

But change is afoot in states across the country.  For example, Nebraska will consider a measure to eliminate the 2-year waiting period for restoration voting rights.  And Virginia, no stranger to controversy on this issue in recent years, may consider a proposal that marries restoration of voting rights with 2nd Amendment rights. Meanwhile, in March the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments on a proposed constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to ex-felons (other than murderers and sex offenders).

The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and participation in the democratic process is a part of both rehabilitation and reintegration.  States throughout the country should look to restore voting rights as quickly and easily as possible so as to further a successful transition back to society.