Wednesday, May 10, 2006

muntaquim and hayden cases dismissed

two more cases challenging felon disenfranchisement, muntaqim v. coombe and hayden v. pataki, were dismissed last week by the second circuit u.s. court of appeals. that's jazz hayden at left, who filed the latter suit while incarcerated in new york.

the plaintiffs had argued that felon voting restrictions diluted the voting strength of african american and latino communities, in violation of section two of the voting rights act. i'll need to consult the great legal mind to parse the decisions, but i believe that this is the punch line:

“congress did not intend the voting rights act to cover such provisions” and that applying it in such cases “would alter the constitutional balance between the states and the federal government.”

most judicial challenges to felon disenfranchisement have failed. on the other hand, incremental state-by-state legislative and executive changes have been occurring regularly since the civil rights era. in this connection, catherine weiss of the brennan center has prepared a useful general template titled components of a right to vote bill. her brief summary:

Restoration of Rights: This provision should clearly identify at what point voting rights are restored to people with criminal convictions – upon discharge from prison? upon completion of parole? upon completion of parole or probation? upon completion of sentence plus a waiting period?
Notice: This provision should ensure that criminal defendants are informed: (1) before conviction and sentencing, that they will lose their voting rights; and (2) at the point of restoration, that they are again eligible to register and vote.
Voter Registration: Under this provision, the government agency that has contact with people at the point of restoration (the Department of Corrections, or the Department of Parole or Probation, for example) should take responsibility for assisting them with voluntary voter registration.
Maintaining the Statewide Voter Registration Database: This provision should ensure that names are removed from and then restored to the state’s computerized list of registered voters by electronic information-sharing between corrections agencies and elections agencies.
Education: This section should make the state’s chief election official, usually the secretary of state, responsible for educating other government agencies and the public about the legislation.

because public opinion favors voting rights for ex-felons (80%), probationers (68%), and parolees (60%), legislators may be increasingly receptive to reenfranchising these groups. in contrast, only about 33% support voting rights for currently incarcerated prison inmates.

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