This is the first in a series of comments describing some of the 153 laws passed in 2019 restoring rights or delivering record relief in various ways. The full report on 2019 laws is available here.
Restoration of Civil Rights
In 2019, eleven states took steps to restore the right to vote and to expand awareness of voting eligibility. Our experience is that many people convicted of a felony believe they are disqualified from voting when they are not: almost every state restores voting rights automatically to most convicted individuals at some point, if they are even disenfranchised to begin with.
The most significant new re-enfranchisement laws were enacted in Colorado, Nevada and New Jersey, where convicted individuals are now eligible to vote except when actually incarcerated. Colorado restored the vote to persons on parole supervision, while Nevada revised its complex system for restoring civil rights so that all people with felony convictions may now vote except while in prison. In one of the final legislative acts of 2019, New Jersey’s governor signed a law limiting disenfranchisement to a period of actual incarceration, even in cases where a court has ordered loss of the vote for election law violations, immediately restoring the vote to 80,000 people. These three states joined the two states (New York and Louisiana) that in 2018 took steps to limit disenfranchisement to a period of incarceration: New York’s governor issued the first of a series of executive orders under his pardon power restoring the vote to individuals on parole, and Louisiana passed a law allowing people to register if they have been out of prison for at least five years.
Now, only three of the 19 states that disenfranchise only those sentenced to prison still extend ineligibility through completion of parole: California, Connecticut, and Idaho. Bills under consideration in 2019 in both California and Connecticut would allow people to vote once they leave prison, though in California this will require a constitutional amendment.
Kentucky saw perhaps the most dramatic extension of the franchise in 2019, when its incoming governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order restoring the vote and eligibility for office to an estimated 140,000 individuals convicted of non-violent felonies who had completed their sentences. Before the order, individuals were required to petition the governor individually to obtain restoration of their voting rights. (Governor Beshear’s father had issued a similar order in 2015 at the end of his own term as governor, but it was revoked by his successor.) Iowa is now the only state that does not restore the vote automatically to most convicted individuals at some point.