Washington DC Makes Important Stand for Voting Rights, Temporarily Abolishes Felony Disenfranchisement
Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed the Restore the Vote Amendment, authorizing voting by people incarcerated in jail or prison with a felony conviction. However, as emergency legislation, the law will expire in 90 days unless the Council approves a permanent version this fall.
Statement by Keshia Morris Desir, Census and Mass Incarceration Project Manager at Common Cause
Once an American is eligible to vote that right should never be taken away. Washington, DC joins Maine and Vermont in making a stand for the most important and sacred right we share, our right to vote.
Felony disenfranchisement laws have a disgraceful past rooted in the oppression of Black Americans in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era that disproportionately impacts communities of color today.
Unlike Maine and Vermont, DC incarcerates and disenfranchises an outsize number of Black people. In 2019, 4,049 DC residents were incarcerated in the Bureau of Prisons, and over 90 percent of them were Black. DC residents who are incarcerated, in many cases, bear an extra burden in that they are sent to prisons far away from their families and communities. Retaining their right to vote helps keep them connected to their community.
Far too often, the legal system is working against many of our friends and neighbors, instead of helping to obtain a truly inclusive democracy. The current system of mass incarceration presents a democratic challenge: those most affected by the criminal justice system are unable to express their grievances at the ballot box.
We applaud Mayor Bowser and the DC Council for taking this important step towards reform by making sure those who are incarcerated are not stripped of their voice in our democracy. On behalf of our more than 3,600 Common Cause members in the District, we strongly urge the DC Council to pass and the mayor to sign permanent legislation.
Read our report: Zero Disenfranchisement: The Movement to Restore Voting Rights