Continuing his years-long campaign to end the denial of voting rights for those with criminal convictions who have been released from incarceration, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) re-introduced the Democracy Restoration Act (DRA) in May. Originally introduced in 2008 by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis), Cardin has championed the DRA each year since 2011.
The ABA-supported bill, S. 1677, would restore the right to vote in federal elections for those who have been convicted of a crime unless they are incarcerated at the time of the election.
In a May 17, 2023, letter to Cardin, ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross thanked Cardin for his re-introduction of the legislation. “The ABA believes the right to participate in a representative democracy is fundamental to citizenship, and disenfranchisement should never be a consequence of conviction,” she wrote.
More than 4.6 million people – about one in 50 adults in the U.S. – could not vote in 2022 because of felony convictions. Seventy-six percent of them had completed their prison or jail terms and were living in their communities.
The state and federal governments’ application of criminal law disproportionately punishes many individuals along racial and ethnic lines, resulting in a stunning correlation: over two million voting-eligible Black and Latinx Americans are blocked from the ballot box by state laws. In her letter to Cardin, Enix-Ross pointed out that the laws “disproportionately punishes many individuals along racial and ethnic lines, resulting in a stunning correlation between the permanent loss of the right to vote and Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.”