Restore Voting Rights to Returning Citizens

Don’t Tread on the District

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Our neighboring US senator, Ben Cardin, has introduced a vitally important piece of voting rights legislation, the Restore Democracy Act, S. 1588, which would secure federal voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. As of 2008, over five million formerly incarcerated Americans were denied federal voting rights. There are only 22 states with a population greater than five million, to put that level of disenfranchisement in perspective. Some states are embarking on efforts to reform this and grant formerly incarcerated persons voting rights, but this also should be done at the national level for federal voting rights. Sen. Cardin should be commended for introducing this bill and his cosponsors thanked for supporting it.

There are 13 cosponsors of the DC statehood bill, S. 1278, who are also cosponsors of the Restore Democracy Act. Six of the cosponsors of the Restore Democracy Act, however, are not cosponsors of the statehood bill. Yes, the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated Americans is something we all should oppose, and senators should legislate to end it yet the silence of these six Senators on the denial of federal voting rights to citizens in the District is also galling and indefensible.

This is not an Us vs. Them scenario. Rather, it’s a What about Us? situation. Why don’t these senators support legislation to guarantee federal voting rights for the 700,000+ people living in DC?

What, about our political status, do they find acceptable? What is it about DC statehood that causes them to remain silent? They and others should support the restoration of federal voting rights for formerly incarcerated Americans and for the people of DC. As members of the Democratic Party, a party that seems more aligned with a pro-civil rights and voting rights agenda, they should have no problem supporting equality for the people in DC. Heck, DC statehood is in the 2016 platform, yet too many members in the Senate remain silent.

Senators should be commended for cosponsoring the Restore Democracy Act (and others should be pressured to support it as well), but they also should be called on to restore democracy for DC too, by cosponsoring the DC statehood bill. We must amplify the pressure on them here in DC and back in their home states so they can no longer remain mute on this critical issue at the core of our democracy.

One of the most fundamental principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence is that government is constituted of people who derive their power from the consent of the governed, yet we in DC have never been allowed to consent to tax bills, federal appointees and judicial appointees. It’s long past time that we restore democracy in DC too, so that we can formally offer our consent or dissent to the government in power.

The six senators who support Sen. Cardin’s pro-voting rights bill but not OUR pro-voting rights bill probably won’t be reading this column, but you are, so please call their offices and ask them “to support democracy in DC to by cosponsoring the Washington, DC Admission Act.” Here are the numbers to call:

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): 202-224-2823
  • Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.): 202-224-6324
  • Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii): 202-224-6361
  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.): 202-224-4242
  • Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.): 202-224-5641
  • Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): 202-224-5244

 

Josh Burch is a member of Neighbors United for DC Statehood (www.the51st.org), a group of residents who believe that community organizing and strategic congressional outreach are the foundation and driving force behind the DC statehood movement. He can be found at josh@unitedforstatehood.com or followed at @JBurchDC.

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