Pressley unveils groundbreaking bill to grant incarcerated persons the right to vote

"You’re not disqualified as a citizen because of engagement with the criminal legal system,” said U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

In a historical measure, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and U.S. Senator Peter Welch of Vermont unveiled a first-of-its-kind bill that aims to grant incarcerated persons the right to vote. The groundbreaking move would expand access to the ballot for Black and brown citizens.  

“You’re not disqualified as a citizen because of engagement with the criminal legal system,” Pressley, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told theGrio. “This [act] will guarantee their right to vote.”

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley,
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MARCH 24: U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) speaks before the swearing in of Kim Janey as the Mayor of Boston at City Hall on March 24, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. Janey is the first woman, and first Black mayor of the city. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Pressley and Welch held a press conference to detail how the Inclusive Democracy Act would end felony disenfranchisement in federal elections.

If enacted into law, the legislation would grant citizens with criminal convictions the right to vote in federal elections and make it a requirement for state and federal entities to inform people who are convicted, incarcerated, on probation, or on parole that they have a right to vote in said elections. The bill would create a process for incarcerated citizens to register to vote by mail.

Pressley told theGrio she believes a bill like this has not been introduced in the U.S. Congress before because “when you are incarcerated, you become invisible.” She explained, “With a lack of visibility, then there is a lack of advocacy and awareness.”

“I think it is important that we have a government and a Congress that is representative of every walk of life. As someone who has been personally impacted, and my family destabilized, in this way. These are issues that I’ve dedicated my entire life and public service to working on,” added Pressley.

According to the Democratic lawmakers, 4.6 million citizens, who are disproportionately Black and brown, have been denied their voting rights in federal elections due to a criminal conviction.

The members of Congress hope to change this practice. However, they must first get needed support from Republican colleagues. 

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – MARCH 07: Inmates at the Cook County Jail cast their votes in the Illinois primary election after a polling place in the facility was opened for early voting on March 07, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. About 500 to 700 inmates were expected to vote today inside the facility which houses more than 5,000 detainees. The jail is the first in the nation to open a polling place inside to allow inmates to vote. The Illinois primary election will be held on March 17. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Senator Welch told theGrio, “There’s a real problem we have in this country, and that’s a significant effort to keep people away from the ballot box.”

“If you can’t win at the ballot box, don’t let people vote. That has been the tactic in many of the states around the country,” he said.

“We are committed to full access to the ballot box as a birthright in this country. So, there will be resistance,” Welch added. “We’ll carry on despite what resistance is there.”

Pressley said, “This resistance has manifested itself in a series of very focused and coordinated attacks.”

“From state legislatures to courts and certainly here [in Congress], there are active efforts of obstruction, and so they’re not taking any days off in their efforts to deny access to the ballot,” she said.

Pressley continued, “That’s why we have to be just as precise and intentional in our affront to their assault to ensure that every voice is heard.”

The Inclusive Democracy Act is cosponsored by more than 20 Congressional members, including U.S. Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo., Troy Carter, D -La., Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., Summer Lee, D-Pa., and several others.

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