Updated May 28, 2018

Former felons lead the voter restoration movement

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Formerly incarcerated people across the country are using their past connections with the criminal justice system to lead the national movement to restore voting rights for the disenfranchised.

Between the lines: Laws stripping voting rights from people with past criminal convictions vary widely from state to state. Some revoke rights permanently and require a petition for restoration, while others restore the right after release. But an estimated six million formerly incarcerated people nationwide cannot vote — an amount experts say has the potential to change election outcomes in key states with strict felon-voting policies.

"Those who are closer to the problem are a big part of the solution."
— Checo Yancy, an organizer with the Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), told Axios.

The backdrop: Louisiana's governor is expected to sign a measure that Yancy, an organizer with the Voice of the Experienced (VOTE,) and others had lobbied for, that will allow those on probation or parole to vote, once they've been out of prison for five years.

What they're saying: Former felons-turned reform advocates say voting restoration would ease transition into society and allow them to overcome the stigma of incarceration.

  • "This is a big reward. We've been fighting it in court," said Yancy, who has been out of prison for for 15 years and whose parole ends in 2056.

The other side: Meanwhile, many Republicans and conservative groups, who fiercely oppose any changes to felon voting laws, have long argued that people must first prove that they’ve been rehabilitated.

State of play:
  • Florida: A November ballot measure led by Desmond Meade, a former felon and leader of a local group, would automatically restore voting rights to felons once they complete their prison sentences.
  • Mississippi: There are two pending federal suits seeking automatic restoration after a person completes a sentence for a disenfranchising crime. The state’s constitution currently outlines several crimes that disqualify a person from voting, and only gubernatorial pardon or legislative action can restore the right to vote.
  • New Jersey: State lawmakers are weighing a measure that would allow people in prison to vote. Only Maine and Vermont currently do so.

Meanwhile, the movement has reaped recent successes: Just this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) on Tuesday issued the first set of conditional pardons restoring the right to vote to more than 24,086 parolees.

  • Last year, thousands of Alabama felons were added to voter rolls after the state Legislature passed a law that clarified under which crimes convicted felons are barred from voting.
  • In 2016, then Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restored voting rights to more than 155,000 convicted felons who had completed their sentences.

Go deeper: The long voting rights fight for Florida's ex-felons

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 5,375,648 — Total deaths: 343,721 — Total recoveries — 2,149,412Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 1,639,872 — Total deaths: 97,599 — Total recoveries: 361,239 — Total tested: 13,784,786Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Trump, March 19, 2019. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool via Getty Images

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP

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