Voting is one of the strongest tools citizens have in voicing their opinion in political leadership and legislation, but in the US where about 1 in 40 adults cannot vote due to a felony conviction, the democratic system is lacking the voice of a significant portion of the population.
To rectify political underrepresentation due to disenfranchisement, the Washington D.C. Council approved an emergency bill this week that, if passed, will restore voting rights to felons and allow inmates to vote. If signed by the mayor, D.C. will join Maine and Vermont as the only jurisdictions to allow all incarcerated citizens to vote.
The emergency bill would immediately extend voting rights to 4,000 citizens for 90 days and the council would vote on whether or not to permanently adopt the bill later in July.
In addition to the restoration of voter rights, the bill also introduces police reform policies such as a ban on the use of chokeholds, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.
Washington D.C. incarcerates more residents per capita than any other state in the country and also has the highest share of Black residents. The issue of voter disenfranchisement is deeply rooted in racism as most states passed laws prohibiting felons from voting around the time Black Americans gained the right to vote. According to the District’s Corrections Information Council, of the 4,049 D.C. residents incarcerated at the end of 2019, over 90 percent of them were Black.
The movement to restore felon and inmate voting rights has regained traction with the calls for racial justice reforms. Restoring voter rights is a highly tangible solution for improving racial equality in the US. Hopefully more states implement similar initiatives in the near future.