H. R. 2212
To secure the Federal voting rights of persons
who have been released from incarceration.IN THE HOUSE
June 16, 2011
CONYERS introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on
To secure the Federal
voting rights of persons who have been released from incarceration.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States
of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Democracy Restoration Act of 2011'.
The Congress makes the following findings:
(1) The right to vote is the most basic constitutive act of citizenship. Regaining
the right to vote reintegrates offenders into free society, helping to enhance
(2) Article I, section 4 of the Constitution
of the United States grants Congress ultimate supervisory power over Federal elections,
an authority which has repeatedly been upheld by the Supreme Court.
(3) Basic constitutional principles of fairness and equal protection require an
equal opportunity for Americans to vote in Federal elections. The right to vote
may not be abridged or denied by the United States or by any State on account
of race, color, gender or previous condition of servitude. The 14th, 15th, 19th,
24th, and 26th Amendments to the Constitution empower Congress to enact measures
to protect the right to vote in Federal elections.
There are three areas where discrepancies in State laws regarding felony convictions
lead to unfairness in Federal elections: (A) There is no uniform standard for
voting in Federal elections which leads to an unfair disparity and unequal participation
in Federal elections based solely on where a person lives; (B) laws governing
the restoration of voting rights after a felony conviction vary throughout the
country and persons in some States can easily regain their voting rights while
in other States persons effectively lose their right to vote permanently; and
(C) State disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact racial and ethnic
(5) Disenfranchisement results from varying
State laws that restrict voting while under some form of criminal justice supervision
or after the completion of a felony sentence in some States. Two States do not
disenfranchise felons at all (Maine and Vermont). Forty-eight States and the District
of Columbia have disenfranchisement laws that deprive convicted offenders of the
right to vote while they are in prison. In 35 States, convicted offenders may
not vote while they are on parole and 30 of these States disenfranchise felony
probationers as well. In 10 States, a conviction can result in lifetime disenfranchisement.
(6) An estimated 5,300,000 Americans, or about 1 in 41 adults, currently cannot
vote as a result of a felony conviction. Nearly 4,000,000 (74 percent) of the
5,300,000 disqualified voters are not in prison, but are on probation or parole,
or are ex-offenders. Approximately 2,000,000 of those individuals are individuals
who have completed their entire sentence, including probation and parole, yet
(7) In those States that disenfranchise
ex-offenders, the right to vote can be regained in theory, but in practice this
possibility is often granted in a nonuniform and potentially discriminatory manner.
Offenders must either obtain a pardon or order from the Governor or action by
the parole or pardon board, depending on the offense and State. Offenders convicted
of a Federal offense often have additional barriers to regaining voting rights.
(8) State disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact racial and ethnic
minorities. Eight percent of the African-American population, or 2,000,000 African-Americans,
are disenfranchised. Given current rates of incarceration, approximately one in
three of the next generation of African-American men will be disenfranchised at
some point during their lifetime. Hispanic citizens are also disproportionately
disenfranchised based upon their disproportionate representation in the criminal
(9) Disenfranchising citizens who have
been convicted of a felony offense and who are living and working in the community
serves no compelling State interest and hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration
(10) State disenfranchisement laws can
suppress electoral participation among eligible voters by discouraging voting
among family and community members of disenfranchised persons. Future electoral
participation by the children of disenfranchised parents may be impacted as well.
(11) The United States is the only Western democracy that permits the permanent
denial of voting rights to individuals with felony convictions.
3. RIGHTS OF CITIZENS.
The right of an individual who is a citizen
of the United States to vote in any election for Federal office shall not be denied
or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless
such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or
facility at the time of the election.
SEC. 4. ENFORCEMENT.
(a) Attorney General- The Attorney General may, in a civil action, obtain such
declaratory or injunctive relief as is necessary to remedy a violation of this
(b) Private Right of Action-
(1) A person
who is aggrieved by a violation of this Act may provide written notice of the
violation to the chief election official of the State involved.
(2) Except as provided in paragraph (3), if the violation is not corrected within
90 days after receipt of a notice under paragraph (1), or within 20 days after
receipt of the notice if the violation occurred within 120 days before the date
of an election for Federal office, the aggrieved person may, in a civil action,
obtain declaratory or injunctive relief with respect to the violation.
(3) If the violation occurred within 30 days before the date of an election for
Federal office, the aggrieved person need not provide notice to the chief election
official of the State under paragraph (1) before bringing a civil action to obtain
declaratory or injunctive relief with respect to the violation.
5. NOTIFICATION OF RESTORATION OF VOTING RIGHTS.
(1) NOTIFICATION- On the date determined under paragraph (2), each State shall
notify in writing any individual who has been convicted of a criminal offense
under the law of that State that such individual has the right to vote in an election
for Federal office pursuant to the Democracy Restoration Act and may register
to vote in any such election.
(2) DATE OF NOTIFICATION-
(A) FELONY CONVICTION- In the case of such an individual who has been convicted
of a felony, the notification required under paragraph (1) shall be given on the
date on which the individual--
(i) is sentenced
to serve only a term of probation; or
(ii) is released from the custody of that State (other than to the custody of
another State or the Federal Government to serve a term of imprisonment for a
(B) MISDEMEANOR CONVICTION-
In the case of such an individual who has been convicted of a misdemeanor, the
notification required under paragraph (1) shall be given on the date on which
such individual is sentenced by a State court.
(1) NOTIFICATION- On the date determined under
paragraph (2), the Director of the Bureau of Prisons shall notify in writing any
individual who has been convicted of a criminal offense under Federal law that
such individual has the right to vote in an election for Federal office pursuant
to the Democracy Restoration Act and may register to vote in any such election.
(2) DATE OF NOTIFICATION-
(A) FELONY CONVICTION-
In the case of such an individual who has been convicted of a felony, the notification
required under paragraph (1) shall be given on the date on which the individual--
(i) is sentenced to serve only a term of probation by a court established by an
Act of Congress; or
(ii) is released
from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (other than to the custody of a State
to serve a term of imprisonment for a felony conviction).
(B) MISDEMEANOR CONVICTION- In the case of such an individual who has been convicted
of a misdemeanor, the notification required under paragraph (1) shall be given
on the date on which such individual is sentenced by a State court.
For purposes of this Act:
(1) CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION OR FACILITY- The term `correctional institution or
facility' means any prison, penitentiary, jail, or other institution or facility
for the confinement of individuals convicted of criminal offenses, whether publicly
or privately operated, except that such term does not include any residential
community treatment center (or similar public or private facility).
(2) ELECTION- The term `election' means--
(A) a general,
special, primary, or runoff election;
convention or caucus of a political party held to nominate a candidate;
(C) a primary election held for the selection of delegates to a national nominating
convention of a political party; or
(D) a primary
election held for the expression of a preference for the nomination of persons
for election to the office of President.
OFFICE- The term `Federal office' means the office of President or Vice President
of the United States, or of Senator or Representative in, or Delegate or Resident
Commissioner to, the Congress of the United States.
PROBATION- The term `probation' means probation, imposed by a Federal, State,
or local court, with or without a condition on the individual involved concerning--
(A) the individual's freedom of movement;
the payment of damages by the individual;
periodic reporting by the individual to an officer of the court; or
(D) supervision of the individual by an officer of the court.
7. RELATION TO OTHER LAWS.
(a) State Laws Relating to Voting Rights-
Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit the States from enacting any
State law which affords the right to vote in any election for Federal office on
terms less restrictive than those established by this Act.
Certain Federal Acts- The rights and remedies established by this Act are in addition
to all other rights and remedies provided by law, and neither rights and remedies
established by this Act shall supersede, restrict, or limit the application of
the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973 et seq.) or the National Voter Registration
Act (42 U.S.C. 1973-gg).
SEC. 8. FEDERAL PRISON FUNDS.
No State, unit of local government, or other person may receive or use, to construct
or otherwise improve a prison, jail, or other place of incarceration, any Federal
grant amounts unless that person has in effect a program under which each individual
incarcerated in that person's jurisdiction who is a citizen of the United States
is notified, upon release from such incarceration, of that individual's rights
under section 3.
SEC. 9. EFFECTIVE DATE.
shall apply to citizens of the United States voting in any election for Federal
office held after the date of the enactment of this Act.