Washington D.C. is set to become one of three states to allow currently incarcerated prisoners to vote.
The new measure was included in emergency police reform legislation that recently passed the city council, The Guardian reports. If approved by DC’s Democrat mayor, Muriel Bowser, the new law would be in effect for 90 days, Washington Post reports. It’s up to the city to approve a more permanent version this fall.
With Washington DC having a very high incarceration rate, up to 4,500 people could be granted the right to vote this fall.
“Expanding voting rights to persons in prison is a historic step for American democracy,” said Nicole Porter, director of advocacy at the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group, in a statement. “I am hopeful that the District’s action will inspire states to recognize the value of universal suffrage and the engagement of all its citizens.”
The United States is regarded for having some of the strictest policies in the world when it comes to disenfranchising convicted felons of their right to vote. The move toward criminal justice reform in recent years has made a push to ease voting rights restrictions while recognizing that many of them have roots in the Jim Crow era made to disenfranchise African Americans after they gained the right to vote.
While many of the efforts have focused on allowing someone to vote after being released from prison, the DC measure is unique in that it focuses on restoring voting rights while people are still incarcerated.
“The movement to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions has largely stalled at the prison gates,” Christopher Uggen, a professor at the University of Minnesota who studies felon disenfranchisement, wrote in an email.
“In recent years, many states have torn down post-sentence voting restrictions and restrictions on people serving probation and parole sentences in the community. Prisoners, however, have generally been excluded from these reforms.”
If passed, Washington DC would join Maine and Vermont as the only other states where those convicted of felonies are permitted to vote in prison.