On March 5th, the NAACP and NAACP Delaware State Conference met with State Legislatures to discuss House Bill 10, a bill that would amend the state Constitution and remove the five year waiting period for those that have finished all of the terms of their sentencing.
“Voting is a right and reincorporating formerly incarcerated people back into civil society is a necessity,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President & CEO of the NAACP. “Second chance voting is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. When someone comes back home from prison wanting to vote that is exactly the activity we should welcome and encourage, not discourage or delay.”
According to data provided by The Sentencing Project, Delaware strips an estimated 7,407 of their voting rights. Because Delaware applies a five-year waiting period and completion of fee and restitution payments, only an estimated 4,003 of these individuals are currently incarcerated.
The impact of felony disenfranchisement laws is felt disproportionately across demographics. Although the number of those disenfranchised by these laws only amounted to just over 1 percent of Delaware’s voting eligible residents, the number of Delaware’s disenfranchised African Americans represents more than five percent of the state’s voting eligible black residents according to 2010 voting statistics. Overall, blacks represent 95 percent of those disenfranchised.
“The Delaware State Conference has been working on this reform since 2010. It was a wish of Hazel Plants to restore the votes of citizens who are returning to society,” said Richard “Mouse” Smith, President of the NAACP Delaware State Conference. “Now that the national NAACP is on board with ongoing state conference, partner, and former offender efforts for restoration of rights we hope that state legislatures follow.”
Other states are beginning to change the tide. On December 28, 2012, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad released a more streamlined restoration of voting rights application for returning citizens, removing unnecessary credit checks and adjusting payment policies. In January, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell made a push for the automatic restoration of rights for non-violent offenders during his annual State of the Commonwealth address. To date, Virginia has restored more than 4,000 votes.
As part of the NAACP’s campaign to restore the votes of citizens formerly convicted of a felony, the NAACP has joined state conferences across the country to help bring awareness to felony disenfranchisement and encourage legislative and executive policy changes.
The Restore the Votes Campaign (hyperlink: http://www.restorethevotes.org) was launched in October 2012 following the NAACP’s delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. As part of the visit, the delegation held a panel discussion on felony disenfranchisement and the attack on voting rights in states across the nation.
Further data on felony disenfranchisement laws, and their impact on voting aged citizens across the United States can be found here: www.restorethevotes.org.
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