On October 10, the DC Council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety held a hearing on Bill 23-0324, the “Restore the Vote Amendment Act of 2019.” Committee Chairman Allen and Councilmember Robert White heard testimony from local advocates and organizers, experts from national policy organizations, and other community leaders. I was honored to testify on behalf of JUFJ, to count our voice among the many others expressing strong support for this bill. I noted in my testimony that our community had just completed our observance of Yom Kippur, sharing that “central to our practice of teshuva is the idea that we all have the capacity to change, to learn from our mistakes and to repair harm that we create. It calls us to give people second chances.” There are few things – if any – about our criminal justice system that actually repair harm and support people through transformation. But one small way we can move in that direction is to ensure that all citizens who call DC home, whether they are behind bars or not, continue to have a voice in our electoral process (even if we still don’t have national representation… but that’s another issue).
In addition to being a basic moral issue, and a pragmatic one – since research shows that maintaining voting rights decreases recidivism – this is also a racial justice issue. Ninety-six percent of people convicted of felonies in DC are black, despite making up less than half of the DC population, and one out of every 13 African Americans nationally has lost the right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. Rights restoration is critical to making our city a more just place. There is much more to be done to transform our criminal justice system and our electoral process to achieve a truly inclusive democracy, but this is a good start, and I look forward to the Council’s passage of the Restore the Vote Amendment Act of 2019.
Lauren Spokane is a member of JUFJ’s DC Leadership Council and Board of Directors.