By: Joanna Champney, Associate Executive Director
In Delaware, 3.7% of the voting age population is disenfranchised (unable to vote) due to a felony conviction. Delaware is one of a small number of states that has imposed a “waiting period” for reinstating voting rights after individuals have been discharged from prison & probation and have paid all fines & restitution owed.
House Bill 9 is the first leg of a constitutional amendment that would remove the current 5 year voting rights waiting period for felons who have served their prison time, have been discharged from probation, and have paid all fines & restitution. Under the new law, individuals who are discharged from probation and who have paid all fines & restitution can immediately register to vote. The first leg of HB 9 passed in the General
Assembly in June and was signed by the Governor on June 28. Because an amendment to the state’s constitution is required for this change, the bill must successfully pass through the General Assembly again during the next legislative session in order for the revision to be adopted.
The number of people nationally who are barred from voting due to a felony conviction has risen dramatically in recent decades, according to the national criminal justice sentencing reform group The Sentencing Project, based in Washington, D.C. Of the 5.85 million Americans who were disenfranchised in 2010, only about one quarter of these were actually incarcerated at that time. The remaining three quarters of the group
were on probation, parole, or were paying fines and restitution. In 2010, an estimated 25,638 individuals in Delaware were impacted by the voter disfranchisement policy.
Withholding voting rights from people who have “done their time and paid their fine” erects an unjust barrier for individuals with felony convictions. In a press release issued by the Delaware General Assembly, Senator Margaret Rose Henry stated, “This is an important civil rights issue. We’re talking about restoring one of
our most precious freedoms to people who have made a mistake, but have fully paid their debt to society.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Please stay tuned to learn how you can help us to advance phase two of this legislative effort, beginning in January 2013 when the General Assembly reconvenes.
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