Delaware restores voting rights to felons

Following a 15-6 vote in the Delaware Senate, it looks like the state will amend its constitution and restore voting rights to non-violent offenders who have completed their sentences.

The governor is expected to sign the Hazel D. Plant Voter Restoration Act into law, culminating a two-year legislative process requiring passage in two consecutive General Assemblies for any type of constitutional change.

“As Americans we believe in second chances and the right to vote,” said Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP. “Today’s vote in the Delaware Senate ensures that when a fellow citizen who has made a mistake, did their time, and paid their debt to society will be able to join the rest of their fellow Americans in performing our civic duty of voting.”

Jealous made his first trip to Wilmington last month, lobbying for the bill. But NAACP leaders started their campaign encouraging state legislatures about the restoration of rights last year.

“The vote today is a result of years of advocacy efforts to expand the vote to those that have paid their debts to society,” said Richard “Mouse” Smith, President of the NAACP Delaware State Conference.

“The late Hazel D. Plant relentlessly fought for the empowerment of all Delaware citizens,” said bill sponsor and state Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South. “Today’s vote honors and ends part of that fight and will empower a new group of Delaware citizens that now have a voice in what happens in their communities.”

“Access to the ballot is a tenet of our democracy and a right that we must guarantee to voting aged citizens that are returning to society and reestablishing their lives,” said Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, who sponsored the Senate version. 

The amendment eliminates a five-year waiting period for non-violent felons to have their voting rights restored.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal