Arizona Secretary of State - Ken Bennett

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For Immediate Release
May 27, 2010

Contact: Matthew Benson
Director of Communications
602-350-2834 - mobile

Twitter: @therealAZsos

Federal court of appeals sides with Bennett, blocks felons from voting

Decision upholds Arizona law barring felons from voting until they’ve completed their sentence

PHOENIX – Secretary of State Ken Bennett on Thursday applauded a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that ensures Arizona felons fulfill their sentence before being eligible to have their voting rights restored.

“Voting is sacred, so it’s important that felons complete their sentence before being able to rejoin Arizonans at the ballot box,” Secretary Bennett said. “I was proud to help defend the Arizona law, and am thankful to the appeals court for upholding it.”

In Arizona, state law mandates that first-time felony offenders may only have their voting rights restored after they’ve been released from incarceration, have paid all restitution and fines and re-registered to vote. Repeat offenders or those convicted of multiple felonies can only have their voting rights restored by a court.

Thursday’s decision was issued in the case of Harvey v. Brewer. The case involves a handful of convicted Arizona felons who argued that the state’s refusal to restore their voting rights represented a violation of the United States and Arizona constitutions, specifically the Equal Protection Clause and provisions guaranteeing free and equal elections.

But in a decision authored by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who sat with the appeals court to hear the case, the court sided with Secretary Bennett in upholding the state law. O’Connor noted that three of the plaintiffs in the case had not completed payment of restitution and fines they owed as part of their sentence.

“Arizona has a rational basis for restoring voting rights only to those felons who have completed the terms of their sentences, which includes the payment of any fines or restitution orders,” O’Connor wrote. “Just as states might reasonably conclude that perpetrators of serious crimes should not take part in electing government officials, so too might it rationally conclude that only those who have satisfied their debts to society through fulfilling the terms of a criminal sentence are entitled to restoration of their voting rights.”

In its decision, the court cited the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which permits states to revoke the voting rights of felons. Additionally, the court found that states have the authority to ensure that felons complete their sentence, including payment of all fines and restitution, before restoring having their voting rights restored.

“This ruling protects the sanctity of the vote,” Bennett said, “which will always be the top priority of my office.”

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For all media questions, or to schedule an interview with Secretary Bennett, contact Matthew Benson, director of communications, at (602) 350-2834.