Smart Justice leader Will Roberts testified before the Government Administration and Elections Committee hearing today in support of H.B. 6578, bill that would restore the right to vote for people who are on parole in Connecticut.
Here is what he told the committee:
"Good day Senator Flexer, Representative Fox, Ranking Members Sampson and Mastofrancesco, and distinguished members of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.
My name is Will Roberts and I am a leader with the ACLU of Connecticut’s Smart Justice campaign. The right to vote is a fundamental part of American democracy. I believe it is a core constitutional right that should never be taken away, so I am testifying today in support of House Bill 6578 “An Act Concerning Participation in the Electoral Process.” This bill would allow people who are on parole in Connecticut to vote.
There are approximately 3,500 people on parole in Connecticut today. Parole is a form of community supervision for people who were previously incarcerated but have been approved to be released and are now living in the community. Hopefully a person on parole can find employment so they can support themselves, have a roof over their head and food on their table. Hopefully they can reunite with their families and begin building their lives in the communities that they chose to live in. People will be more successful at reintegrating into society when they are engaged with their community, so the right to participate in the democratic process is central to that. Restoring the right to vote for people who are rejoining society recognizes that people on parole are full citizens and need to be treated with dignity that fosters a connection and engagement with society.
More than six million Americans are currently disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. Laws that disenfranchise people because of a felony conviction have disproportionately disenfranchised Black Americans. In many states these laws were, in fact, intended to have this racist effect. Mass incarceration, combined with disenfranchisement laws, subverts participatory democracy, particularly for communities of color. Restoring the right to vote for people on parole is a step towards dismantling these harmful and discriminatory law. It is long overdue to remove this racist legacy.
In Maine and Vermont, citizens never lose the right to vote – even while incarcerated. In Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, people have their right to vote restored automatically when released. New York removed voting restrictions for people on parole in 2018. Colorado and Nevada restored voting rights for people on parole in 2019. California voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure in November of last year to restore the rights of people on parole to vote. Again, it is long overdue for Connecticut to allow people who are on parole the right to vote.
I also want to note that we should not pass legislation that requires people to pay any fines before being restored to voting status. There should not be a poll tax to vote. Requiring people to pay to vote is fundamentally undemocratic and a relic of a time that had even more voter suppression. This bill, House Bill 6578, is the best version of voting for people on parole.
Thank you for listening to my testimony and I welcome any questions you may have."
The ACLU of Connecticut believes this bill is the best version of voting for people on parole, because it removes the requirement that people must pay all fines before being restored to voting status. Removing this provision ensures Connecticut does not just substitute one Jim Crow-era voter suppression measure (disenfranchising people on parole) for another (poll taxes). Requiring people to pay to vote is fundamentally undemocratic and a relic of times of times that had even more voter suppression; the ACLU-CT strongly supports this bill’s removal of that language. You can read more about the bill in our additional written testimony.