House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) has introduced a controversial piece of legislation as her first effort in the newly convened 116th Congress. It is a political reform bill that includes a provision that would force states to allow convicted felons to vote as long as they were no longer actually in prison.
“H.R. 1 will create automatic voter registration across the country; ensure that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored; expand early voting and simplify absentee voting; and modernize the U.S. voting system,” a summary of the bill says.
A subsection of the bill is called “Democracy Restoration.” The summary for that subsection describes this: “Declares the right of citizens to vote in federal elections will not be denied because of a criminal conviction unless a citizen is serving a felony sentence in a correctional facility.”
It continues: “Requires states and the federal government to notify individuals convicted of state or federal felonies, respectively, of their re-enfranchisement.”
The present law gives states the right to determine whether or not a convicted felon is allowed to vote.
“Currently, state approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary tremendously,” says the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while incarcerated,” says the NCSL.
“In 14 states and the District of Columbia,” says NCSL, “felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release.”
“In 22 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole or probation,” says NCSL.
“In 12 states felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored,” says NCSL, “or face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence (including parole and probation) before voting rights can be restored.”
Pelosi said at a press briefing on Friday that the bill was designed to “clean up elections and restore integrity to government.”
“Today, guided by our new Members and the American people they represent – that we all represent – we are introducing H.R. 1: legislation to clean up elections and restore integrity to government,” Pelosi said.
“We put power back into the hands of the people,” she said.