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Bill would grant voting rights to ex-felons

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, reintroduced a bill in Congress last week that would allow ex-felons to vote in federal elections.

The legislation seeks to develop uniform federal standards for restoring the voting rights of felons who are no longer in prison. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.

Too many states deny ex-offenders the right to vote after they leave prison, said Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, comparing the disenfranchisement laws to the poll taxes and literacy tests once used to prevent blacks from voting.

"Disenfranchisement laws isolate and alienate ex-offenders and serve as one more obstacle in their attempt to successfully reintegrate into society," Conyers said in a statement.

An estimated 5.8 million ex-felons are ineligible to vote in federal elections, including more than 45,900 in Michigan, according to the Sentencing Project.

The advocacy group says more than 4 million ex-felons nationally are no longer in prison but on probation or parole, or have finished their sentence. Michigan denies the right to vote to felons only while they're in prison.

"The United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions," Cardin said in a statement. "Congress has a responsibility to remedy these problems and enact a nationwide standard for the restoration of voting rights."