A court ruling in Washington State last week might impact the case of a Milwaukee man challenging Wisconsin’s ban on felon voting.
The Milwaukee case involves a felon who challenged the Wisconsin’s felon voting ban after being convicted of voter fraud for trying to vote in the last presidential election.
Michael Henderson, 41, was charged with two counts of election fraud in 2008 – voting while disqualified and providing false information to an election official. The charges carry a penalty of up to 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Henderson is a convicted felon but was serving his parole at the time of the offenses, according to the complaint.
Henderson filed a lawsuit in July stating the only part of his parole he had yet to complete was monetary, and the Wisconsin law prohibiting felons from voting violates his constitutional rights.
The Washington ruling, which may influence the outcome of Henderson’s case, upheld a state law that bars convicted felons from voting until they complete their parole.
The ruling upheld the rights of states to prevent individuals who have committed the most serious crimes in society from voting, said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna in a statement.
The ruling also brought Washington into line with the other 47 states with similar laws, McKenna said, a list of states that includes Wisconsin.
“A felon on an active period of supervision for a felony offense is prohibited by state law from voting in any election,” said Bill Cosh, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office, in a statement.
In this past month, two Milwaukee felons came forward and admitted to voting fraudulently in the last election, according to the Department of Justice. An election task force formed in July also caught nine felon voters who voted in the 2008 elections in Milwaukee.
However, Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, argued banning felons is the wrong approach.
Felons who return to society after having served their time ought to be given a second opportunity to become full citizens – and that includes the right to vote, Heck said in an e-mail.
“Iowa, Nebraska and New Mexico have repealed their lifetime bans on voting by people who have been convicted of felonies, and several other states made it easier for freed prisoners or those on probation to vote. And Wisconsin should, too,” Heck said.
Many arguments against the ban on felons voting are rooted in the belief that such a ban discriminates against minorities.
“There is no question that the impact of felony disenfranchisement falls disproportionately on racial minorities,” Mike McCabe, executive director for the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said in an email. “One out of nine African-American adults cannot vote due to felony convictions, compared to one out of 50 Wisconsinites generally.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to a Massachusetts Law barring felons from voting.
The next hearing for the Milwaukee case is Nov. 17.