Democrats in Tough Re-election Races Dodge Felon Voting Issue

Monday, 03 Mar 2014 08:08 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Democrats facing close Senate re-election races are distancing themselves from proposals to allow convicted felons to regain voting rights after serving their sentences.

Several senators, including Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mark Begich of Alaska, avoided the question when The Hill asked them about their stance.

State policies regarding whether ex-felons may vote vary. Ten states — Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming — bar most felons from ever voting. In Maine and Vermont, all — even those still in prison, can cast a ballot, the Pew Charitable Trust reported.

Pew estimates that a total of 5.85 million Americans are disenfranchised. In Florida, 11 percent — one in nine potential voters — are barred. The number of African Americans without a vote in the Sunshine State is close to one in four.

Liberalizing the rules would empower a disproportionately black and Democratic-leaning cohort to re-enter the electoral process, the Hill says.

Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin plans to introduce a bill that would automatically re-enfranchise felons upon their release from prison, a position backed by Attorney General Eric Holder.

Among Democrats who responded to The Hill's question, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, running against Republican challenger Ed Gillespie, said he supports restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons. With regard to those who had committed violent crimes, Warner said he would want to give the issue more thought.

Kentucky's Democratic Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supports restoring voting rights to ex-felons.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin who is confident of re-election said, "Except in the rarest circumstances, after they've paid their price to society, they ought to be participants in our electoral system."

On the Republican side, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is also drafting legislation that would restore voting rights to released nonviolent ex-felons.

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