Oregon poised to expand voting to prisoners

Oregon Legislature Start of Session
The Oregon state Senate convenes for the first day of the legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at the state Capitol in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Claire Rush) Claire Rush/AP

Oregon poised to expand voting to prisoners

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Oregon is set to expand voting rights to people in prison.

The state legislature will hold a full assembly vote in June, and the measure is likely to pass. Democrats hold a supermajority in both the House and Senate.

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Gov. Tina Kotek (D-OR) hasn’t publicly said if she would sign the bill, but her signature is believed to be likely. If passed, the bill would make Oregon the third state in the United States to allow people to vote while in prison, according to NBC News. The other two states are Maine and Vermont, and they’re joined by Washington, D.C.

“A qualified person who is registered to vote and is in the physical custody of a jail, prison or correctional facility, including a local correctional facility as defined in ORS 169.005 or a youth correction facility as defined in ORS 420.005, shall be considered registered to vote in the county of the qualified elector’s last voluntary residence,” the bill, SB 579, reads.

Democrats say the bill moves the U.S. toward being a consistent democracy by giving all adults the right to vote.

“Voting is just such an integral component to the way that we’ve built democracy,” one of the bill’s chief co-sponsors, Democratic state Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, told the outlet. “People vote when they are in nursing homes, when they are in hospitals, people have the right to vote when they are receiving treatment for drug and alcohol abuse or mental health issues. We don’t condition the right to vote. Once we start making exceptions to that, where do you stop?”

Republicans, meanwhile, have decried the bill as allowing the voices of the most violent in society to decide the state’s politics.

“Whether it’s murder in the first degree, second degree, criminal negligent homicide, assault in the first and second degree rape, trafficking of persons — all of these categories of felony convicts — we’re pretending that they will be good citizens who will be able to exercise their right to vote,” Republican state Sen. Dennis Linthicum said in a committee hearing about the bill.

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Linthicum also suggested the policy could lead to a “new system of corruption within the penitentiary system where you can buy and sell votes” for items such as cigarettes.

Currently, people lose their right to vote when imprisoned in Oregon, but the right is immediately restored upon release. Along with Oregon, 21 other states hold this policy, 15 have a waiting period before the right is restored, and 11 have their voting rights removed indefinitely for some severe crimes.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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