Felon voting rights restoration reviewed

Judiciary Committee eyes felon voting rights

Current law requires five-year wait after completing sentence

Parole Board wants restoration decision shifted to ‘ministerial function’

The Joint Judiciary Interim Committee will address Wyoming’s handling of the restoration of felon voting rights this year. The panel’s chairman called for the drafting of two pieces of legislation focusing on the issue during a meeting in Rawlins Tuesday, May 13. The Equality State Policy Center supports restoration of felon voting rights. We believe that punishment should end upon
Sen. John Schiffer Chairs Senate Judiciary Committee

Sen. John Schiffer
Chairs Senate Judiciary Committee

completion of sentencing requirements. Moreover, research has found that formerly incarcerated people are far less likely to commit another crime if they have their rights AND vote. Historically, stripping convicted felons of voting rights was one of the techniques used in the South to prevent African-Americans from voting. Mike Krampner, formerly an attorney in Wyoming and a Friend of the ESPC, asserts that it has nothing whatever to do with a person’s integrity or fitness to vote. It’s important to simplify the restoration of rights. The state should adopt procedures used in other states that restore the rights automatically when a sentence is completed and a person convicted of a felony no longer is under the supervision of the state. The committee wants to make the process more practical. Committee Co-Chairman John Schiffer, R-SD22, Kaycee, directed the Legislative Service Office (LSO) to draft a bill to remove the restoration authority from the Wyoming Parole Board. Parole Board member Doug Chamberlain (a former House speaker) said the decision to restore rights is based purely on facts and does not require a judgment of character. The board simply assesses whether the candidate meets the requirements for restoring rights as spelled out in state statutes. That’s a “ministerial decision,” Chamberlain said, and does not require the judgment of the board’s members. The second bill Chairman Schiffer asked LSO to draft will address qualifications for restoration of voting rights. Presently the state requires that: the convicted person must have been guilty of a non-violent felony or felonies related to a single incident; must successfully complete all sentencing requirements; and must wait five years. DOC Director Bob Lampert said prisoners are given packets that note their ability to have their rights restored after the five-year wait. But people forget and the former prisoners often cannot be found to remind them, he said. Schiffer said the new law should restore rights automatically to prisoners on the day of release. The restoration of rights should not be extended to people convicted of committing felonies in two or more incidents. Sen. Bruce Burns, R-SD21, Sheridan, said the draft law should be modeled after Wyoming’s felony expungement statute that allows expungement of drug-related felonies as well. The ESPC agrees that the ministerial responsibility should be placed with the Department of Corrections (DOC). The department holds the prisoner’s records. The new statutes also should require restoration of rights automatically upon completion of sentencing. The DOC can assess a felon’s record on the date of release from prison or parole and determine whether the felon meets the basic qualifications.  

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