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The legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee gathered public testimony Monday for a bill that would allow all people to vote while they’re incarcerated.
House Bill 5702, the bill under consideration, doesn’t yet contain exhaustive language specifying what else it would accomplish.
Public testimony in opposition to the legislation overwhelmingly focused on a desire to reserve voting for “law-abiding citizens,” as one written testimony read, but people in support of the bill pushed back against that line of thinking.
“Disenfranchisement has preceded all criminal activity,” said James Jeter of the Full Citizens Coalition, a group focused on undoing the harm caused by felony disenfranchisement. He’s also formerly incarcerated. “I know that this is a hard bill, but it’s also the right bill. We have to start undoing the embedded racism in our system. It’s not about an individual, it’s about the processes that created this.”
Currently, incarcerated people convicted of a misdemeanor, along with people who haven’t been sentenced, can vote through an absentee ballot.
Stephanie Thomas, the state’s top election official, publicly testified at Monday’s hearing in support of various bills but didn’t comment on expanding voting access for people behind bars — the majority of whom are Black.
If the bill discussed Monday passed through the legislature, the “Land of Steady Habits” would become the fourth place to allow all incarcerated people to vote – joining Maine, Vermont and Washington, D.C.