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Lawmakers Could Speed Up Restoring Voting Rights for Felons

Wyoming lawmakers are considering a bill to make it easier for people to vote after they've served their sentences for nonviolent offenses. (Erik Hersman/Flickr)
Wyoming lawmakers are considering a bill to make it easier for people to vote after they've served their sentences for nonviolent offenses. (Erik Hersman/Flickr)
March 1, 2017

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Wyoming lawmakers are considering a measure this week that would automatically grant nonviolent felons the right to vote again after serving their sentences. Under current law, all people convicted of felonies lose the right to vote while in prison - and nonviolent offenders have to wait five years and then, go through a complicated application process before they can legally vote again.

Phoebe Stoner, the executive director of the Equality State Policy Center says House Bill 75 would remove a series of hurdles, which also would make things easier for the government workers processing those applications.

"This legislation would eliminate a lot of government red tape that we believe is currently probably not the best use of our tax dollars," she explained. "And Wyoming would be joining 39 other states that currently offer automatic restoration."

Some members of the Wyoming House testified in favor of the bill after hearing from constituents who explained how difficult the process was after serving their sentences. The bill does not change the rules for people convicted of violent felonies, such as sexual assault or murder.

House Bill 75 has cleared the House and is expected to get a final reading in the Senate Wednesday.

Stoner points to a Teton County woman who had completed her sentence ten years ago and voted in the 2016 election, thinking she was eligible. But since she hadn't completed the paperwork, she could be prosecuted for another felony, which Stoner notes means more work for county clerks and prosecutors. Stoner believes the measure is also in sync with Wyoming values.

"As Wyomingites, we take pride in the integrity and the fairness of our elections," she said. "And this is a right that we believe all citizens should have equal access to."

The new law would make people convicted of nonviolent felonies automatically eligible to participate in all elections after serving their sentences, and they would still have to register to vote.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY