NAACP leader supports voting rights for felons in Delaware

By Amy Cherry 4:36pm, March 5, 2013 - Updated 4:38pm, March 5, 2013
NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous explains why he feels felons should have their voting rights restored. Rep. Helene Keeley also talks about her efforts to pass this measure.
The President and CEO of the NAACP comes to Delaware to throw his support behind a constitutional amendment that must pass this year with a two-thirds majority in order to restore voting rights to convicted felons.

WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.

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Convicted felons would no longer have to wait five years after their sentence is served to head to the polls.

"We're a country that believes in second chances, and quite frankly, when somebody comes out of prison, and they're thinking about voting, that's exactly the type of behavior that we all have an interest in encouraging," says Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP.

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Instead, they would just have to finish out their probation and pay restitution, then be permitted to vote.

"A mandatory waiting period here does not serve the interests of our society, does not serve the interests of our democracy, and it is exactly the type of thing that we need to get rid of especially for non-violent offenders because we need to encourage people to do the right thing," says Jealous.

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The proposed constitutional amendment, also known as the Hazel Plant Voter Restoration Act, would bar Delaware's most violent criminals from ever voting again.

Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South) is its prime sponsor.

"If you've killed someone, if you've raped someone, if you were a pedophile, you're not getting your voting rights given back, but if you wrote a bad check when you were 18-years-old, then yes, we're going to give you your voting rights back," says Keeley.

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Jealous says restoring voting rights for the most violent offenders isn't the focus of this national push, though he points to two states, Maine and Vermont, that actually allow inmates to vote.

"They have a very infinitesimal black populations, and it really shows, unfortunately, the sad linkage of Jim Crow and the origins of these laws in the very first place," says Jealous.

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