Tuesday, March 23, 2010

U.S. 'Democracy Restoration Act' Seeks to Reinstate Voting Rights of Felons on Release

Via Talk Left:

The Democracy Restoration Act would restore federal voting rights to felons who have served their sentences. The bill was introduced last summer by Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. John Conyers. The Judiciary Committee, Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee held a hearing on the bill last week.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, an estimated 5.3 million American citizens cannot vote because of a criminal conviction. Of these, 4 million are out of prison and living and working in the community. Restoring a person’s right to vote is a critical element to successful reentry into society after incarceration and consistent with our democracy’s modern ideal of universal suffrage. 4 million Americans cannot vote because they suffered a felony conviction.

Canada has no equivalent restriction on voting.

In fact, as noted at Elections Canada online, the right to vote in Canada extends even to all incarcerated persons:

1.15 Right to Vote of Inmates Serving Sentences of Two Years or More

Sections 246 and 247 of theCanada Elections Act, which set out the process for voting in provincial correctional institutions, should be amended to provide a similar process for voting in federal institutions. This would ensure the existence of a process through which prisoners serving a sentence of two years or more might exercise their right to vote, pending a legislative response to the striking down of paragraph 4(c) by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002.

Sections 246 and 247 of the Act set out the process whereby persons incarcerated in provincial correctional institutions can exercise their right to vote, by means of a special ballot. The Act provides no similar process for persons incarcerated in a federal penitentiary, because the current wording of those provisions reflects the prohibition in paragraph 4(c) of the Act that directs that every person who is imprisoned in a correctional institution and serving a sentence of two years or more is ineligible to vote. Prisoners serving sentences of two years or more are generally incarcerated in federal institutions.16 However, paragraph 4(c) was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002 in its decision inSauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer).17 As a result, all persons who are otherwise eligible to vote in a federal election are entitled to vote, regardless of the length of their sentence of incarceration.

In every by-election and general election since the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Sauvé, the Chief Electoral Officer has used his authority under section 17 of the Act to adapt sections 246 and 247 to provide a process for voting by individuals incarcerated in federal penitentiaries.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

Visit our Toronto Law Firm website: www.wiselaw.net



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