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Progressive Democrats’ landmark amendment to extend voting rights to prisoners fails in House

Alex Woodward
·2-min read

A proposal from Democratic congressmembers Cori Bush and Mondaire Jones to enfranchise people in prison failed by a vote of 97-328, though the effort marked a landmark attempt to bring the issue of voting rights for incarcerated Americans into the halls of Congress.

The lawmakers proposed the measure in an amendment to HR 1, one of the largest pieces of voting rights legislation since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

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The For The People Act would, among other things, expand voter access and eligibility, work to eliminate partisan gerrymandering, and amend campaign finance laws to remove corporate interests from political campaigns. If passed, it would also restore voting rights to people with felony convictions.

Only Maine, Vermont and Washington DC allow incarcerated people to vote. Several states have introduced measures to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people, though 30 states continue to disenfranchise people with felony convictions even after they have served their prison sentences.

“This cannot continue," Ms Bush said. "Disenfranchising our own citizens is not justice."

Voting against the measure were 119 Democrats, though among the 97 Democrats who supported the amendment were House Majority Whip James Clyburn and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, as well the “squad” of progressive House lawmakers.

“For the first time ever, the House took a vote on whether or not to end the cruelty of denying incarcerated people their right to vote,” Rep Bush said on Twitter. “Our amendment didn’t pass, but 97 Democrats voted with us. We will not stop fighting until we dismantle white supremacy in all of its forms.”

The House heard debate over HR1 as well as roughly 60 attempts to add amendments to boost or undermine provisions in the bill on Tuesday.

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Ms Bush, who has experienced homelessness, also proposed extending voting rights to unhoused Americans by expanding ballot drop-boxes.

“Our country’s unhoused community members are criminalised, disregarded and demonised,” she said. “I’ve been unhoused, and in those bleak days, I felt as through my own government had forsaken me.”

House lawmakers will vote on the For The People Act on 3 March.

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