Wyoming Considers, Votes against Easier Reinstatement of Felon Voting Rights

With the presidential election in November 2008 shaping up to be an historic election in American politics because of the presence of both a viable female candidate and African-American candidate on the Democratic ticket, voters are more excited than ever to cast their vote in both the primary elections and general election in order to be a part of history. And voters have turned out in record numbers, as many news sources have reported over the course of this primary season.

Yet many potential voters will never have the chance to vote in this or any other election, and one of the largest pools of such voters is convicted felons. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows states the right to ban those who have “committed crimes” from voting if they pass such a law, and many state voting regulations govern what types of crimes will ban convicted criminals from voting during parole or other waiting period, or even for life.

However, the debate over enfranchisement of felons and others convicted of other crimes or on parole as been going on within both the political arena as well as among human rights advocacy groups.

A recent vote in the Wyoming state legislature fell just a single vote short of passing a bill that would have allowed those convicted of multiple felonies or violent felony crimes to more easily reapply for voting rights.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jane Warren, representing Laramie, Wyoming, and found eight co-sponsors in the state House of Representatives. The bill, House Bill 50, required that two-thirds of the state lawmakers vote in its favor, but fell just one vote short of that required supermajority.

Warren, who is a lawyer and a member of the House Judiciary Committee in Wyoming, says that she believes enfranchisement is a necessary step in the rehabilitation of former inmates and convicted criminals.

Her bill would have amended the wording of Wyoming statute 7-13-105, titled “Restoration of rights,” to make it easier for convicted felons to regain voting rights. Currently, a felon convicted of a non-violent crime must apply to the state board of parole for a certificate that restores voting rights. However, in order to apply, the individual must wait until five years after the sentence or parole has transpired.

Warren’s proposed amendment would have given a person convicted of any felony-even a violent felony-or multiple, unrelated felonies, the chance to reapply for voting rights. The only exception would be those convicted of election-related felonies.

Warren also proposed in the bill shortening the waiting period for application from five years to one year.

Similar legislation has been promised to be reintroduced next year, since many lawmakers are behind Warren’s proposals and advocate enfranchisement for more voters in Wyoming, which claims the dubious distinction of being one of the most restrictive states in the U.S.

Civil rights groups like Project Vote have been working to address voter disenfranchisement for many different types of voters, including low income voters, those without ID, and felons.

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