HONOLULU (AP) - State lawmakers are considering a bill that would give some Hawaii felons and prisoners the right to vote.
Supporters say the loss of voting rights disproportionately affects minorities, who often experience higher rates of incarceration. They say losing the right to vote undermines the democratic process.
“It makes a lot of sense when you think why people commit crimes in the first place,” said Rep. Kaniela Ing, who introduced the bill. “They feel like they’re not a part of the system.”
Opponents say people who commit serious crimes may not be trustworthy, and losing the right to vote is an added punishment.
The Hawaii Attorney General’s Office says the proposed law contradicts the Hawaii State Constitution, which says that felons cannot vote until final release, except if they’re placed on probation or paroled.
National data shows one in 40 adults weren’t able to vote in the 2008 elections because of a felony conviction, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Of those, 1.4 million were African American men.
Native Hawaiians make up nearly 40 percent of Hawaii’s total prison population, according to report by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. This is despite the fact that they make up about one-fourth of Hawaii’s total population, according to state data.
Michele Navarro Ishiki, who supports the bill, said voting gives prisoners a chance to reconnect with the community. She’s Hawaiian and was incarcerated multiple times before becoming a substance abuse counselor, she said.
“I do remember sitting in my cell wondering why I could not vote,” said Ishiki. “If I was meant to be a part of community, then voting would have served my community well, no matter where I laid my head at night.”
Hawaii lawmakers changed the bill to allow only low level felons the right to vote. As originally proposed, the bill would have given all Hawaii residents in prison and convicted of felonies voting rights.
Only Maine and Vermont allow all incarcerated residents and felons to vote, yet a growing number of states are considering laws to ease voting restrictions for those in prison, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.
National studies say there’s a link between voting participation and re-offense, and that people who voted were less likely to be re-arrested than those who didn’t.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.