WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), along with Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have introduced a bill, the Democracy Restoration Act, to strengthen communities by reducing recidivism rates through the restoration of voting rights to individuals after they have served their time and have been released from incarceration. S. 772 would restore voting rights in federal elections to the million Americans who are out of prison and living in the community. Studies indicate that former prisoners who have voting rights restored are less likely to reoffend, and that disenfranchisement hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration into their community. Once again, companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.
In the United States, an estimated 5.85 million adult citizens are currently disenfranchised as a result of a criminal conviction. While 15 states and the District of Columbia already restore voting rights upon release from prison, 35 states continue to restrict the voting rights of people who are no longer incarcerated. In 11 States, a conviction can result in lifetime disenfranchisement. Several States deny the right to vote to individuals convicted of certain misdemeanors. Earlier this month, the Maryland Senate passed legislation that would restore voting rights for former felons on parole or probation.