Yesterday, the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on H.R. 3335, the “Democracy Restoration Act of 2009.” (The Senate companion bill is S.1516.) The bill, in relevant part, states:
The right of an individual who is a citizen of the United States to vote in any election for Federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility at the time of the election.
As far as enforcement goes, the bill allows the Attorney General to sue to enforce the law. It also gives felons a private right of action to sue to enforce the law if the state does not. The state is obligated to notify the felon when the felons’ voting rights have been restored. Finally, any state not in compliance with the law will lose federal funding for prisons. Please click here for the text of the bill as introduced in 2009.
Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky and Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity were the only witnesses at the hearing arguing against passage of the bill. Please click here for a copy of their testimonies and here for a blog article by von Spakovsky on the legislation. I encourage you to read the testimonies of both von Spakovsky and Clegg . They both lay out the constitutional problems with the legislation and explain why it’s bad public policy nicely.
These efforts in Congress, led by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) (who you may remember has been ACORN’s Defender in Chief), John Conyers (D-MI) (whose wife incidentally was just sentenced to three years in prison), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) and in the Senate by Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), are transparent attempts by liberals to legislatively expand the Democratic electorate. John Lott, a scholar on crime and punishment, recently wrote, “According to academic studies, from 1972 to 1996, on average 80 percent of felons would have voted Democratic. An overwhelming 93 percent ostensibly would have voted for Bill Clinton in 1996.” The Democrats know they will lose seats in both the House and Senate in 2010 and passing this law is a great way to make sure it doesn’t happen again in 2012.
In the event Congress isn’t able to pass the bill, Democrats have their allies the ACLU and other left-wing groups working on a judicial fix to the problem. As the RNLA reported a few months back, the Ninth Circuit recently overturned Washington State’s ban on voting by convicted felons. There was another recent suit involving a challenge to the interpretation of a provision of Mississippi’s state constitution that disqualified convicted felons from voting. In this instance, the Fifth Circuit held that a proper reading of the state constitution did not permit these felons to vote. There have also been recent challenges to state restrictions on felons voting in Alabama and South Dakota. There is a strong chance that the Washington case will make it to the Supreme Court since there is a Circuit Court split on the matter.
There is activity at the state legislative level as well. Kentucky’s legislature is currently considering a bill that would roll back the state’s permanent ban on felons voting. (Felons can actually apply to get their voting rights back in Kentucky but it is very difficult.) However, with the Democracy Restoration Act the Democrats must be thinking a federal fix can solve the problem with one quick stroke of federal overreaching.