WASHINGTON – Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said that all felons should have the right to vote.
“I’m for allowing people who are incarcerated to have the right to vote. Why not? They’re citizens. No matter what they’ve done, and I’m not defending any of their conduct, but all of it wasn’t bad – but all I’m saying is expanding the vote and eliminating structural barriers is critical,” Conyers said at this month’s annual Legislative & Policy Conference organized by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) on Capitol Hill.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’re in a battle for the soul of this nation. What we do is going to affect, not only us, but a lot of people around the world,” he added. “And every day in the courts and in Congress, issues are raised to determine what it means to be an American and what your rights are. Well, we want all of our rights, not some of them.”
Conyers, who made the comments before news broke of sexual harassment complaints and a settlement involving the lawmaker, said Congress should take action to eliminate “strict” voter identification laws at the state level and enact other reforms.
“Make Election Day a national holiday. We shouldn’t have to do this in between work or hope we can get off work or not get paid. We want a paid holiday for those who are working,” Conyers said. “We want to extend voting hours and increase early voting days.”
Conyers urged progressives to remain committed to “expanding the right to vote.”
“In the area of voting rights protections, the Justice Department has literally changed sides since the new administration has come in. They are throwing out some of the modest progress that was beginning to be made. And so we’ve got a lot to do. Voter suppression is now a policy objective of this administration,” he said.
“The myth that voter fraud is rampant and our elections infiltrated by undocumented immigrants continues to be used as a pretext for state legislatures across the country to make it harder for minorities to vote,” the congressman added. “The real objective is to achieve a cynical partisan political outcome. Researchers have found that the laws have a dramatic and discouraging effect on minority turnout.”
Last year, Conyers introduced the Voter Restoration Act that would “amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, by prohibiting states from disqualifying individuals convicted of criminal offenses from voting in federal and local elections, and from registering to vote, with the exception of those convicted of murder, manslaughter, or sex crimes.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) argued that Republicans are using the right to vote as a “tool of oppression.”
“Make no mistake, the right to vote is under attack. A right-wing Supreme Court guts voting rights. State legislators ram through voting suppression laws and a so-called election integrity commission wants the states to turn over voters’ birth dates and Social Security numbers – think about that. We will defend the right to vote,” Warren said at the conference.
“We will not add one penny of support and not one ounce of legitimacy to President Trump’s so-called election commission. We will not,” she added. “We will pass a new Voting Rights Advancement Act and we will demand legislation to protect every citizen’s right to vote.”