A bipartisan group of state senators has begun reviewing Georgia's rules about voting by convicted felons, with a target of deciding on possible changes in times for next year's legislative session.
The panel was convened last month by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, with a deadline to make recommendations by year's end.
Currently, Georgia felons may not resume voting unless they have paid off all fines, and until their probation or parole is done. This is the situation in most states, but a move has been underway to loosen the restrictions – especially the one about paying off fines, an economic burden that can keep felons disenfranchised for years after they reenter society.
"There are good people – not necessarily innocent people – in our jails and prisons that plan on doing good things when they get out," GOP state Sen. Randy Robertson, the chairman of the study committee and a former sheriff's deputy, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I'm looking forward to hearing about what a nonviolent felon is and listen to the groups impacted by the issue."
Convictions prevented about 250,000 Georgians from voting in the last presidential election, four out of five of them because they were still on probation or parole, according to the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group that studies racial disparities in sentencing.
Democratic state Sen. Harold Jones, another member of the panel, predicted the likeliest outcome would be reinstating voting rights more quickly – perhaps as soon as after release from prison – for nonviolent felons who have been convicted of crimes such as drug possession and shoplifting.
Georgia is among 22 states where felons lose the franchise for some time after their release from prison, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated in 14 states.