Missouri bill would restore ex-felons’ right to vote sooner

February 24, 2020 GMT

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Most former felons in Missouri who were convicted of nonviolent crimes would get their voting rights back sooner under proposals pitched Monday in a state Senate committee.

Missouri is among 21 states where felons lose the right to vote until they complete their probation or parole terms, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

St. Louis Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed told a Senate committee that her bill would give former offenders the right to vote as soon as they’re released from prison. Another proposal by Nasheed would put the question of ex-convicts’ voting rights to a public vote.

“While on probation or parole we expect for former offenders to get a job and to earn a paycheck, but when Election Day comes they are barred from casting a ballot,” Nasheed said. “That is unnecessary. Again, that is taxation without representation.”

Former offenders regain the right to vote at the end of their time in prison in 16 states and Washington, D.C.

Nasheed’s proposal would apply only to those convicted of nonviolent crimes and wouldn’t cover anyone convicted of an offense related to voting.

She said Missouri’s current policy puts an “undue burden” on former prisoners because some probation and parole terms can exceed 10 to 15 years.

Her bill comes after some states such as Colorado and Florida moved toward increasing former prisoners’ access to voting.

Colorado in 2019 enacted a law giving those on probation or parole the right to vote. Florida voters in 2018 adopted a policy similar to what’s already law in Missouri, allowing ex-felons the right to vote after completing probation or parole.

Suburban St. Louis resident Bradley Cobb, 35, is on parole and told lawmakers Monday that he wants to be able to vote in his City Council election.

“They always say, ‘Oh we want people to get out and we want them be good citizens,’” Cobb said. “Well how can I be a citizen, when I can’t be a citizen?”

Save Our Sons Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Director Jamie Dennis said voting can help reintegrate former prisoners into society.

“A lot of times disenfranchisement causes them to not understand what laws are about and how due process works,” Dennis said.

But it’s unclear how far the Missouri proposal will progress in the Republican-led Legislature in a major election year.

Some Republicans on the committee weighing Nasheed’s legislation argued that felons haven’t paid their full debt to society until they complete probation or parole.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s office says it’s too early for him to weigh in on the measures. But a spokeswoman said in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the current law “seems appropriate.”

Parson is a former sheriff running to keep his seat in November.