By Leah Dearborn
Lawmakers in Maine are proposing a bill that will rescind the right of felons to vote while incarcerated. The bill is the sixth of its kind to reach the Legislature since 1999, and is being sponsored by Rep. Gary Knight.
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports:
Knight said his bill is different from those that were rejected because it specifies that only those convicted of Class A crimes, which include murder, manslaughter and gross sexual assault, would be prevented from voting. Also, when they get out of prison, their voting rights would be restored.
The bill will be opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which has led the opposition in the past.
“Stripping people of constitutional rights is no appropriate punishment,” said executive director Shenna Bellows. “Voting is also an important tool in rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.”
Besides Vermont, Maine is the only state that allows felons to vote while imprisoned. Voter disenfranchisement over past criminal convictions is a growing issue in the United States. Four states (Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia) permanently deny any convicted felon the right to vote, even following their release from prison. The Wisconsin Journal Sentinel wrote in November of 2012 that 7.7 percent of African Americans of voting age cannot vote due to convictions.
As Maine reconsiders its laws, the news is breaking today in Virginia that a bill to restore voting rights to released non-violent felons has been defeated by a subcommittee in the House of Delegates. The Daily Press commented on the bill:
That is, on a voice vote, the seven members of the Constitutional Amendment Subcommittee, part of the House Committee on Privileges and Elections, recommended “no action.” The same subcommittee had previously defeated a separate House version of the bill by a 6-1 margin.
More than 451,000 people can’t vote in Virginia on account of being a convicted felon. That’s 7.3 percent of the state’s voting age population of 6.14 million — one of the highest rates in the country.