Governor Signs Legislation Expanding Access to the Ballot Box, Builds on Record of Criminal Justice Reform
Wilmington, DE – Today, at the Achievement Center in Wilmington, Governor Markell signed legislation that removes the financial bar to restoring voting rights for people convicted of felonies who have completed their sentence. The legislation, shepherded through the General Assembly by Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East) and Representative Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South), will make Delaware one of 40 states that have increased access to the ballot box in recent years and will prevent an individual from being unable to participate in our democracy because of their inability to pay.
“Voting is one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans, and while everyone should pay up, these financial barriers should never be a reason individuals are unable to participate in our democracy,” saidGovernor Markell. “I’m proud to sign this legislation to enable more individuals to become full members of their communities, and to build on our efforts to have more ex-offenders become productive citizens when their sentences end.”
In his State of the State Address, the Governor called on the legislature to enact this legislation to expand voting rights and to build on the substantial progress the state has already made in ensuring our criminal justice system is more equal, ending discriminatory practices of the past, and empowering individuals reentering society.
In 2013, with House Bill 10, the Delaware General Assembly amended the Delaware constitution to remove a five year waiting period for restoration of voting rights, but Delaware code still required all financial obligations be met before voting rights were restored. Voting promotes participation in our society and enhances social ties. Senate Bill 242 ensures individuals aren’t prevented from exercising that fundamental right.
“Requiring people who have served their time to pay full restitution unfairly disqualified many voters who have a fundamental right to participate in our democracy,” said Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, the lead Senate sponsor of SB 242. “Good faith efforts to pay one’s debt to society should be rewarded with good faith, and that’s what lifting these financial impediments to will do here in Delaware.”
“Delaware took an important step forward a few years ago in abolishing an arbitrary waiting period for regaining voting rights. That bill was the result of years of dedication and unwavering support from former Reps. Al and Hazel Plant,” said Rep. Helene Keeley, the lead House sponsor of SB 242. “This legislation fulfills our goal of restoring voting rights to those who have completed their period of incarceration and should by any other means have the right to vote. Regaining the right to vote is a critical component of reintegrating into society.”
“Disenfranchising people who have served their time is punitive and it stigmatizes people who are taking meaningful steps to turn their lives around,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend. “This legislation doesn’t merely reinstate voting rights, it empowers people and increases the likelihood that they will stay out of prison and contribute to our society in other meaningful ways.”
“Voting for who represents you in government is one of the most liberating, important things you can do as a member of society,” said Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden. “We removed one big hurdle a few years ago, but the current system continues to hamper people’s ability to cast their votes, even as they rejoin society and get their lives back on track. By removing this hurdle, we’ve invited more Delawareans to be part of the process and participate.”
“Giving individuals the ability to participate in the voting process is a huge step forward in allowing individuals to feel valued and like they belong to their communities,” Grandville Brown, Director of Peer Reentry Services for Connections, said. “I thank Governor Markell, and the sponsors of this legislation for fighting so hard to see this legislation through and for further opening up the democratic process.”
Source: Governor Markell’s Office
Image Credits: State Of Delaware