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The Battle Over Felon Voting Rights Rages On

Both Republicans and Democrats are considering proposals to restore felon voting rights

As the 2024 election heats up, the long-standing battle over felon voting rights still rages on.

Voting rights activists are currently wrangling with Republican officials across the country over whether felons who have served their time should have voting privileges restored, according to a new report from Axios.

The issue has become a partisan flashpoint, the outlet said, with most Republicans opposing felons voting and most Democrats favoring felons’ restoration of voting rights. Other reports show that both parties are floating proposals to address the issue.

As Axios notes, “A big reason for that divide: Felons are four times as likely as non-felons to be Democrats or politically unaffiliated, a 2019 study found. Only 20% of felons identified as Republicans after being released.”

There are more than 4.6 million individuals with a felony conviction who are barred from voting, according to The Sentencing Project, an advocacy organization addressing decarceration and issues surrounding the criminal justice system.

Currently, eight states have laws in place that permanently bar people with felony convictions for serious offenses (ie: murder, rape) or who have multiple felony convictions: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Data from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) places the number of disenfranchised felons at 5.8 million. The ACLU also says there is a racial element to the issue, as black Americans comprise 40 percent of felons ineligible to vote, while making up just 12 percent of the overall population.

However, there is overlap among Republicans and Democrats who would like to see voting rights restored to people with felony convictions.

“People who have served their time deserve to have their right to vote restored,” Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), co-sponsor of a national bill to restore felon voting rights, told Axios. “How are formerly incarcerated persons functioning and productive members of our society if they cannot participate in the most fundamental feature of a true democracy? The answer is, they can’t.”

Neil Volz, a Republican and deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition told Axios, “We’re fighting just as hard for somebody who wants to vote for Donald Trump as we are for someone who wanted to vote for President Obama.”

Conservatives say that pushback against Democrat proposals for reform is simply due to language that would strip away states’ rights to enact their own policies on the issue.

“Their plan wouldn’t let the people of Kentucky or our elected representatives in Frankfort make this important decision,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) told Axios.

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