Butler Introduces Bill To Restore Voting Rights For Qualifying Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

Washington, D.C. – In honor of Second Chances Month, U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) introduced the Next Step Home Act, a crucial piece of legislation aimed at restoring voting rights for individuals with felony convictions who have been released under the First Step Act and successfully reentered society.

“The Next Step Home Act will complete the process of returning home by restoring the right most fundamental to our citizenry—the right to vote,” said Senator Butler. “With this bill, I seek to stop perpetuating destructive cycles of exclusion and marginalization and instead embrace justice and the belief that every person is worth redemption.”

The Senator’s Next Step Home Act would build on the success of the First Step Act, a landmark bill that jumpstarted reform of the criminal justice system. Under the First Step Act, recidivism rates among its beneficiaries is at 12.4% and the legislation has helped reduce the population in overcrowded prisons by at least 30,000 people, but more must be done to enact humane reforms to the nation’s criminal justice system. Presently, a staggering 4.6 million Americans are disenfranchised from federal elections due to felony convictions—a figure that is four times as high since the onset of mass incarceration in 1973. By extending the power of the vote to these individuals who have demonstrated a genuine commitment to reentry and including them in our political process, we advance our nation’s democratic principles of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” 

The Next Step Home Act is co-sponsored by Senators: Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“Disenfranchising individuals who have served their sentences, reintegrated into society, and contribute as taxpayers isn’t just a flaw in our criminal justice system—it’s a democratic and civil rights failure,” said Senator Booker. “Laws denying formerly incarcerated individuals the right to vote are relics of the Jim Crow era and part of a systemic effort to disenfranchise people of color in this country. When we enacted the First Step Act five years ago, it marked just the beginning of our efforts to reform our nation’s criminal justice system. Millions of Americans continue to be locked out of the ballot box, and this legislation is the next step to restoring voting rights, and bettering our country’s reentry process.”

“The Next Step Home Act will build on the successes of the bipartisan First Step Act and reintegrate tens of thousands of Americans into our voting population,” said Senator Coons. “Every citizen who has served their sentence deserves the right to participate in our democracy, and this bill is a crucial step forward in that fight.”

“The First Step Act brought significant progress toward ensuring our criminal justice systems are fairer and more effective—but there is still much more work to be done,” said Duckworth. “I’m proud to help introduce the Next Step Home Act to build on our work by restoring voting rights in federal elections to all Americans—including incarcerated individuals—who benefited from the First Step Act.”

“Despite having served their sentences and working to reintegrate to society, millions of previously incarcerated Americans are still unjustly denied access to the ballot,” said Senator Hirono. “The right to vote is essential to our democracy and I’m proud to support the Next Step Home Act to help ensure returning citizens can make their voices heard.”

“Formerly incarcerated individuals who have served their time can’t be full participants in their communities if they remain barred from exercising their fundamental right to vote. This legislation reaffirms our belief in second chances with action – by restoring returning citizens’ right to make their voices heard in our democracy,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy,” said Senator Klobuchar. “Senator Butler’s legislation will build on the progress of the bipartisan First Step Act and ensure those who have served their time and are released from prison through that law are able to vote.”

“For too long, voting laws have blocked formerly incarcerated individuals out of our democratic process,” said Senator Markey. “Returning citizens deserve the right to vote in the elections that shape their future as members of society. The Next Step Home Act takes the important step of restoring voting rights in federal elections—a step I’m proud to support as we fight to expand full voting rights for all formerly incarcerated individuals.”

“The ballot box is the beating heart of our democracy,” said Senator Merkley. “I’ve worked hard in the Senate to protect our freedom to vote, and that freedom must extend to formerly incarcerated individuals. We need to build on the progress of the First Step Act by allowing those who have served their sentences to participate in our political process—they deserve access to the ballot box and to have an equal say in the big decisions that impact their lives.” 

“When voting rights are restricted, it undermines the very foundation of our democracy,” said Senator Smith. “Americans with past criminal convictions live in our communities, work and pay taxes. They deserve to have a say in electing the people who represent them, and I am hopeful to see this legislation introduced to restore voting rights to those impacted by the First Step Act.”

“The right to vote is a pillar of our democracy. But right now, millions of Americans are prevented from engaging in our democratic process due to discriminatory state felony disenfranchisement laws,” said Senator Welch. “This bill builds on the progress achieved by the First Step Act to restore voting rights in federal elections for these folks who have shown a genuine desire to reenter their communities. I’m committed to supporting efforts that ensure that everyone can equitably participate in our democracy.”

“Making voting easy and accessible shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s an American democracy issue,” said Wyden. “By restoring the voting rights of these formerly incarcerated individuals, Congress can both reduce recidivism and strengthen our democracy. Americans who have served their time deserve to have that fact recognized by restoring their right to vote and make their voice heard at the ballot box.”

This bill is endorsed by The Brennan Center, League of Women Voters, End Citizens United, Move to Amend, Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Alliance for Safety and Justice, Sojourners-SojoAction, and United Church of Christ.

“The Next Step Home Act is an important bill that would build on the successes of the bipartisan First Step Act. Congress must pass it without delay,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the Voting Rights Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. “The bill would restore federal voting rights to those who have benefited from the First Step Act and have completed the terms of their sentences. As research shows, restoring voting rights improves both individuals’ reentry and public safety. The issue also enjoys bipartisan support.”

“The stark racial inequalities within the criminal justice system have led to numerous states discriminating against individuals released from incarceration by denying them the right to vote. It is undeniable that the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which currently extends to corporations, should unequivocally ensure that all formerly incarcerated individuals attain the right to vote in federal elections. The First Step Act represents a just and pressing initiative that upholds the final four words of the Pledge of Allegiance: ‘…and justice for all.’” Move to Amend

“Voting fosters a sense of connection to our democracy and our communities,” said Jessica Jones Capparell, Director of Government Affairs at the League of Women Voters of the United States. “As a century-long advocate of voting rights, the League is proud to support the restoration of voting rights to formerly incarcerated Americans. The Next Step Home Act would restore voting rights and dignity for many Americans and allow them to participate more fully in our democracy.  We support this legislation to expand opportunities for Americans to make their voices heard and encourage bipartisan consideration of efforts to restore voting rights.” 

“The Next Step Home Act, authored by Senator Butler, is a pivotal step in empowering individuals who have completed their sentences and demonstrated commitment to rehabilitation under the First Step Act,” – Sam Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. “The restoration of voting rights is a fundamental part of the reentry process and allows individuals to feel more connected to their community by having a voice in Federal elections.”  

“The right to vote and participate in civic engagement is an essential part of a person’s journey after coming home after completing a sentence,” said Ingrid Archie, organizing director of TimeDone, the flagship program of Alliance for Safety and Justice advocating for second chances. “This not only reduces the rate of recidivism for people returning home from institutions, but provides an empowering sense of belonging to community.”

“In 2024, over 4.6 million Americans were unjustly denied the freedom to vote in federal elections due to a felony conviction, including those who we released due to the First Step Act,” said Rev. Adam Russell Taylor, President, Sojourners-SojoAction. “As people of faith, we believe the introduction of the Next Step Home Act reflects one of the core tenets of the faith by embracing forgiveness and restoration. We know that restoration of the freedom to vote in federal elections provides a critical opportunity to enable people to contribute to the common good in their communities. That is why Sojourners and SojoAction strongly support the introduction of this bill and advocate for its swift passage.”

“Our faith exhorts us to bring healing and freedom to the captive, and to speak up for the rights of all people,” said Rev. Michael Neuroth, Director of the United Church of Christ Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. “By ensuring returning citizens have a voice in our political system, this bill reflects the history of our nation, as a country of second chances.”

Butler has already co-sponsored several pieces of legislation that demonstrates her commitment to voting rights including the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act which will bolster voting rights by preventing racial gerrymandering, allowing same-day registration, and forbidding practices such as closing or moving voting sites the same day of an election. In addition, Butler is co-sponsoring the Youth Voting Rights Act which will allow minors from 16 years of age to pre-register for when they turn of age to vote. Butler is also a co-sponsor of the Same Day Registration Act and Freedom To Vote Act which will ensure same-day voter registration at polling facilities, expand voting access through mail-in-voting, and strengthen election integrity and security.  

The full bill text can be found here.


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