Testimony on HB 5318: An Act Restoring Electoral Privileges To Convicted Felons Who Are On Parole

March 10, 2021

Committee on Government Administration and Elections

Submitted By: Stephen Wanczyk-Karp, LMSW

The Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, representing over 2,300 members, supports H.B. 5318. This bill takes an important action by restoring parolee rights to vote and thus giving parolees a say on who will represent them in elected office. In this testimony we offer two suggested revisions that strengthens the language.

The right to vote should only be taken away for the most egregious of circumstances. Voting is what makes this state, and nation, a democratic society. It is imperative that Connecticut takes all necessary steps to assure that the maximum number of our residents have the right to exercise their right of franchise to vote.

An individual who having committed a felony is now on parole should be given every opportunity to be reinstated as a full participant in our society. We should be encouraging civic engagement as one means of re-involving parolees into their community. If we expect those on parole to be “good citizens” we need to treat them as such, and that means extending to them the right to vote.

Part of our judicial system is to hold accountable those who have committed a felony. Incarceration is one way in which we do so, and parole is a step down that recognizes that the individual can safely return to the community while finishing their term of conviction. For a parolee who is now returned to the community Bill 5318 provides an important step to establishing one’s full rights and recognizes the ongoing rehabilitative purposes of parole.

If we expect those who committed a felony to move forward in a positive manner with their lives, we need to take steps to facilitate such a change. Denying voting rights is an unnecessary, and punitive measure that serves no positive outcomes. Denying voting rights can be psychologically detrimental to the parolee, impedes re-engagement with the community and denies parolees the right to participate in the electoral process that both directly and indirectly impacts on their lives. Parolees deserve to have a say in who will represent them in elected office.

There are two revisions we suggest to H.B. 5318.

  • In regards to Section 1 (a) requiring payment of all fines we do not believe that the ability to pay a fine should be a prerequisite to restoration of voting rights. This provision unfairly falls upon those parolees of lower-income.
  • In lines 42-43 the bill states “The Office of Adult Probation shall, within available appropriations…” (emphasis added) we urge that “within available appropriations” be deleted. We see no real cost to notification by an Adult Parole Officer to a parolee of their right to register to vote. We assume that the Parole Officer communicates with each parolee on their caseload, thus what is the cost to verbally or in writing inform the parolee of their voting rights? We see this as becoming an excuse for not notifying parolees. Notification to the parolee should be mandatory.

It is time CT joins the at least 19 other states, including all the other New England states, in allowing parolees to vote. NASW/CT urges the Government Administration & Elections to favorably report out Bill 5318.

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