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Felon voting bill clears state Senate

Delaware Public Media

Some Senate Republicans put up a brief fight against a bill Tuesday allowing ex-felons to vote while they’re still paying off court fines before many ultimately supported it.


The measure would allow felons to cast a ballot who are out of prison and have completed any probation or parole time, but are still paying off any fines they might have.


Those include things like fees owed to the court, a state victim’s compensation fund or restitution that would go directly toward anyone harmed in the crime they committed.


Several groups have testified these fines can total hundreds or thousands of dollars, which are difficult to pay off when ex offenders can rarely find jobs to support themselves.


Still, Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover South) put up an amendment that would force felons to still fully pay what they owe to the state’s victim’s compensation fund and any left over restitution.


“The bottom line is that the Victim’s Compensation Fund and restitution are about victims and it’s my contention that you have not earned the right to vote until those victims are as whole as the law allows them to be.”


The Democratically-controlled Senate overruled them on a party line vote.


Despite the division on the amendment, many Republicans eventually supported the overall bill – something that rarely happens at Legislative Hall.


After its passage, Bonini issued a statement in a much harsher tone than the one he used on the floor, saying, "[Democrats] put felons before victims, plain and simple," calling it out of line with "Delaware values."


The General Assembly has been rolling back what used to be far more strict rules surrounding felons and voting during recent years.


In 2013, the body repealed part of that law that forced felons to wait five years after making their final payment before they could cast a ballot.


The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington East), has repeatedly called it a matter of fairness, just like when poll taxes and literacy tests helped bar black Americans from voting before the civil rights movement.


“I was brought up by a grandmother in rural Louisiana in the 1940s and they had all kinds of taxes and things that kept people from being able to vote," said Henry. "If you couldn’t read properly or didn’t pay a tax, you didn’t have the right to vote.”


Democrats hold the majority in the House by a wider margin over Republicans than in the Senate, which could help.


Gov. Jack Markell (D) has also vocally supported the bill, specifically making it a point during his state of the state speech this January.

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