Voting

Wyoming considers allowing some felons to vote

2014-07-09T18:00:00Z 2014-07-09T20:38:26Z Wyoming considers allowing some felons to voteThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 09, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

Wyoming lawmakers are thinking about creating an automatic process to allow some felons to regain their voting rights after they serve their time.

The bill would set up a process to restore voting rights for nonviolent, first-time offenders once they finish serving their sentences, including any probation or parole. Currently, offenders must apply to the state parole board for restoration of voting rights.

The Legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee is set to consider the issue next week in Newcastle.

Bob Lampert, director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections, is set to testify before the committee next week. He said Wednesday that he'll be prepared to answer questions without taking a position on what lawmakers should do.

"The data suggest that people who have their rights restored and engage in the voting process are significantly less likely to come back to prison than those who fail to engage in the voting process," Lampert said. "So there is some data that suggest that it makes a difference."

Lampert said felons who are allowed to vote again are more engaged in their community in a positive way.

He also noted that the Wyoming Legislature has rejected voting rights restoration legislation in the past.

"I think it's just the thought of felons voting that causes some concern," Lampert said of past legislative opposition. "There's one train of thought that says the majority party isn't interested in restoring the rights because they believe that those who would be reinstated would most likely vote a different party line, but that's kind of conjecture."

Jen Horvath, of the Wyoming ACLU, and Dan Neal, director of the Equality State Policy Center, both said their groups support the bill to restore voting rights.

"The restoration of voting rights is consistent with rehabilitation and reductions in recidivism," Horvath said Wednesday. "Because people are more fully able to participate in our democratic society, they are more complete citizens. They're more vested in our political process."

Horvath said that from 2000 to 2011, just over 4,200 nonviolent offenders in Wyoming would have been eligible to have their voting rights restored under the bill.

Neal said his group believes that people who have paid their debt to society should be afforded full citizenship rights.

Neal said it's important to get people who have served time in prison re-engaged with society once they're released. "Letting them become participating members of the community seems like a step forward," he said.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Under current Wyoming law, the only ways felons can regain their voting rights are through a pardon from the governor or the restoration of their rights by the parole board, Gingery said.

Gingery said that although the Legislature gave the parole board discretion about restoring voting rights to felons, the Legislature didn't spell out the criteria the board is to consider in weighing such applications. He said some board members have complained about their predicament.

"I totally get what the parole board was saying," Gingery said. "I think we've put them in an odd spot. We didn't think that one through very well, to give them discretion but then not tell them how to use that discretion, what standards to use.

"I do think that if we're going to give voting rights back to felons, it needs to be that either nobody gets them or everybody gets them back as soon as you've finished your parole."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. Lander
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    Lander - July 11, 2014 9:16 pm
    Felons are in prison for punishment and rehabilitation. Upon parole, they are beholden to very strict oversight and if they re-offend, they will go back to prison. Many with a felony record can and do live a good, honorable life on the outside. It is their right and their responsibility as American citizens to vote.
  2. WyoDem
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    WyoDem - July 10, 2014 10:24 am
    After a felon finishes his or her time, they have paid their dues to society. A one time, non-violent conviction is NOT a life sentence. Most of the felons in Wyoming are conservative, and will most likely vote conservative. Why is that so hard to understand?
  3. Kool Kat
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    Kool Kat - July 10, 2014 8:14 am
    Looks like the Wyoming Democrats took a page out of the socialist liberal handbook. Since you can't get sane folks to vote for your ideological views, free the felons to vote. The like mindedness may actually work.
  4. WyoJeff
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    WyoJeff - July 10, 2014 6:56 am
    I have never understood why they can't vote. They may have broke the law but, they are still citizens. Not all felons are hard core criminals. With the way our governments (Federal, State and Local) are going out of control anymore, this issue is becoming more important. They are making laws that the majority of it citizens don't agree with, putting more citizens in jail. If you take away their rights to vote, it takes away power from the citizens and gives that power to government. One only has to look at drug laws (Marijuana). With the current "out of control" gun control movement, Gun owner could easily start joining the ranks. Putting on my tin foil hat, I could see the day when government makes laws just to create felons and take away voting rights of citizens that don't like out of control government. Conform or go to jail and have no voice.
    I have not given this matter lots of thought, and might change my mind if someone can post a good reason why voting rights should be removed from a citizen. So far, I have not heard a good reason.
  5. RogerClegg
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    RogerClegg - July 10, 2014 6:25 am
    The argument that felons who vote are better integrated into society, and therefore we should let felons vote, is confusing cause and effect, I'm afraid. That is, it's not voting that causes reintegration; it's reintegration that causes voting.

    In all events, if you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website here [ http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-voting/538-answering-the-challenges-to-felon-disenfranchisement ] and our congressional testimony here: [http://judiciary.house.gov/_files/hearings/pdf/Clegg100316.pdf ].
  6. Slade
    Report Abuse
    Slade - July 09, 2014 8:19 pm
    Dandy. Then Wyoming can join the ranks of Florida. Why don't we just tap all the felons on the head and give them cookies, asking them nicely to never do that again? Felons lose their rights because they committed a terrible crime and that is the way it is. Voting rights are restored under special circumstances. I say no rights restored unless pardoned. Let's go with that idea. No one has to pay the piper anymore. Let them live with their consequences. If they want felons to participate in their community, let them volunteer or do something productive. Maybe they should have thought about what they were doing before they did it. People know right from wrong. They chose wrong.
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