The Democracy Restoration Act: Preventing a Lifetime Punishment

Tayna Fogle is a mother of two, grandmother of six, a leader in her community, and a powerful example of how difficult it is for citizens to regain their voting rights.

Two decades ago, Tayna served a sentence for a non-violent drug offense and writing overdrawn checks. Today Tayna has turned her life around and in her own words is "giv[ing] back to my community now, talking to organizations . . . talking to kids to make sure they don't make the same kinds of mistakes I did."

Tayna lives in Kentucky, one of three states that permanently disfranchises individuals with a felony conviction; the other two states are Florida and Iowa. The rest of the states have a variety of disqualifying standards and restoration procedures, including different rules for whether you can vote on probation or parole or after restitution of fines.

Making matters worse, many criminal disfranchisement laws proliferated during the Jim Crow era and were intended to bar minorities from voting. The impact of these laws continues today. Nationwide one in 13 African Americans of voting age have lost the right to vote. In turn, this has impacted the families and communities of those who are disfranchised by reducing their collective political voice.

Florida and Kentucky have the highest disfranchisement rate of African Americans in the country at 23 and 22 percent, and over half a million individuals are permanently denied the right to vote in these two states alone. Nationwide approximately 4.4 million people have been released from prison and are living and working in the community but are unable to vote.

The only way for Tayna to get her voting rights restored was to receive an individual pardon from the governor. This is no easy task – a mere 2 percent have had their voting rights restored by pardon in her state. Absent automatic restoration of voting rights, the process for having rights restored has varied from one political administration to another.

The odds that Tayna would be able to have her rights restored were slim under a previous administration, but her endless persistence paid off. After going through the pardon process twice – including the burdensome process of writing an essay, providing three character references, and paying a fee – Tayna achieved the rare feat of regaining the right to vote. Despite her victory, Tayna remains concerned about why she had to fight so hard to regain her voting rights. "I never have figured out what committing a crime has to do with being able to vote," she said. "We have to pay for that same crime twice – but with a life sentence."

Many deserving and eligible citizens have not been so fortunate. Tayna's success is unique, but the loss of voting rights through vastly different and confusing disfranchisement laws is not.

Yesterday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced a critical bill that would fix this problem by establishing a uniform standard for voting in federal elections. The Democracy Restoration Act would eliminate the confusion caused by the current patchwork of state laws; streamline election administration; ensure that probationers never lose their right to vote in federal elections; and notify people about their right to vote in federal elections when they are leaving prison, sentenced to probation, or convicted of a misdemeanor.

By continuing to deny Americans the right to vote based on a past criminal conviction, the government endorses a system that expects these citizens to contribute to the community but denies them participation in our democracy. That is why the Democracy Restoration Act is supported by a very broad range of faith, law enforcement, and civil rights organizations. It's also why the easing of disfranchisement laws has received strong bipartisan support in many states.

Tayna Fogle has made the most out of her rare second chance, and millions of other American citizens deserve the opportunity to do the same through the Democracy Restoration Act's fair and uniform nationwide process.

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Anonymous

Before I begin I'd like to say this is just my opinion, based on personal experience. Nobody has to believe or even agree with it. I'm just saying that for me, I don't believe there even IS such a thing as "paying for your crime" when it's that you robbed a bank, took the people inside it as hostages and then shot two of them.
I've been in physical pain ever since then and have never been able to work right again. If I'd been a horse, they would have been merciful and put me out of my misery if I could no longer work, but I just have to keep living and living and living while all the whole time I feel the agony of partial nerve damage and apparently will never be able to work full time again and always have to worry that a dys-Kochian reality will come into existence and I'll be like the people under Hitler's reign who were killed for being "useless eaters."
If people don't think that's the way those two act as if they think (that useless eaters should rot and die) then that's your problem. I not only think it, I have a feeling it's going to come to pass.
They aren't going to stop to say 'But someone else did this to her,' they simply don't even care.
And what could the guy who put me IN this position possibly do to have "paid for his crime?"
Only if you're the one who DIDN'T have it committed on you are y0u going to think there's any possible way he could make it up even if he WERE sorry - which he was kind enough at one point to inform me by letter, he ISN'T regretful. Not about what he did.
He said he was "sorry you're an unforgiving person" and to "let bygones be bygones." And let him get out on early release.
He also said that it "had to happen," although to this day I confess to not understanding why it HAD to happen.

from Richard, V...

When I was serving my country in Vietnam I could operate an M60 machine gun that is loaded with a bullet belt so it can shoot out ammunition rapidly and kill the maximum amount of enemy soldiers in the most minimal amount of time. I also had air and ground combat skills, including special operations training in which, if I ever needed to, I would know how to kill the enemy without ammunition (in case I was disarmed.)
But I was considered too young to vote or drink alcoholic beverages.
Our government had and still has strange priorities if you ask me. I would have given a man a right to vote and drink alcohol before training him to use weapons of mass destruction or giving him hand-to-hand combat skills.
I would give as many people as possible the right to vote because I didn't watch friends and comrades die fighting to "protect" the freedoms of our country only to return home and be witness to what I've seen by way of violated rights of American citizens in the past decade. It makes me furious to even contemplate it, especially now when it's so close to the anniversary of their deaths. (April 24, 1971)
My response may be emotional but I also believe it's logical. Why send someone to "fight to protect our freedoms," then turn around and refuse to give them to our citizens?
It makes no sense. Some people in our government need to buy a ticket to the Get A Clue train before it goes speeding past their offices for good.

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