Illinois House bill to allow prisoners to vote likely symbolic, says political science expert

(The Center Square) – State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, has introduced House Bill 1872, which would repeal a law that prohibits people in prison from voting.

John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said this bill is part of a shift away from the strict mentality concerning law and order that started in the 1970s.

“It’s beginning to lighten up a bit, and this bill is a part of that growing more generous and less vindictive on behalf of the people or society,” Jackson said.

It represents a school of thought toward the justice system, he said.

“That there are biases in our administration of the justice system, there are people who get unfairly convicted, that the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people, that there are enormously too many people in state prisons,” Jackson said. “And that’s a movement nationwide that has some traction and certainly has appeal for a lot of people.”

If it passes Jackson says it will set a major precedent.

“These things tend to be comparative, and legislators and governors do look at what’s happening in other states, and this one would be the most generous in the nation,” Jackson said.

Legislation to repeal a ban on inmates voting wouldn’t be enough, however.

Illinois’ constitution states inmates do not get the right to vote returned to them until after they are released, and Jackson points out Ford’s measure would go against that express constitutional provision.

“Our current constitution is actually one of the more liberal providers for the rights of felons and ex-felons,” Jackson said.

Despite this, a constitutional amendment would be hard to get, even if it passed the legislature, Jackson said.

“It still has to go to the people for ratification and I think that ratification would be very problematic in Illinois and I doubt that it would pass,” he said.

Because of this, Jackson thinks the bill is likely symbolic more than anything.

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