Legislation to allow prisoners to vote stalls

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A bill that would have restored voting rights to convicted offenders serving time in prisons and county jails in Illinois failed to make any headway during the fall veto session.

Democratic state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said his amendment to the bill would make Illinois the third state in the nation to allow incarcerated convicted felons, including murderers, to vote in elections.

“This body cannot deny the discriminatory reasons for taking away a citizens’ fundamental right to vote because of criminal convictions and imprisonment, nor the racist history and the penal statutes which were designed to keep people inferior,” said Ford while presenting his legislation to the Illinois House.

Some opponents said the Illinois Constitution clearly states that a person convicted of a felony under sentence in a correctional institution or jail should lose the right to vote until completion of the sentence.

Advocates for the bill, however, noted the words “not later than” suggest that the framers of the constitution anticipated that lawmakers might want to restore those voting rights earlier than upon completion of a sentence.

Under existing Illinois law, anyone who has been convicted of a crime and is serving a sentence of confinement is prohibited from voting. That includes people who are granted a furlough from prison and who are on a work-release program.

Ford’s bill would have deleted that language and restored the right to vote to anyone who is otherwise eligible to vote and is incarcerated in a state, federal or juvenile detention facility, county jail. It would also include those serving probation or parole, on work release or furlough, released on electronic monitoring, housed in a halfway house, or who owe court fines or fees.

The bill failed to garner enough votes so Ford pulled it from consideration. It is unclear whether Ford will bring back the bill in January.

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