In July 2020, in the midst of a global uprising proclaiming Black Lives Matter, Washington D.C. became the first incorporated jurisdiction of the United States to abolish felony disenfranchisement by restoring voting rights for individuals in prison. The vision, strategy, and analysis behind voter restoration in D.C. is a case study on legal advocacy in tandem with movements for structural change. The abolition of felony disenfranchisement in D.C. is best understood through a vision of abolition of a different kind—the abolition of carceral state violence, of prisons, of punitive measures under the guise of justice. By orienting voter enfranchisement on the trajectory for full abolition, the process of movement building, in turn, revives the civic and social collective and the civic agent simultaneously. This piece ends with key takeaways for activists, organizers, community organizations, and lawyers—guided by a vision of abolition—who are working to abolish felony disenfranchisement across the United States.
The author gives her sincere thanks to Professor Frank Deale for his feedback on earlier drafts, and whose guidance and expertise in voting rights was invaluable. The author also thanks Sarah Bradford, Rachel Goldman, Rashika Rakibullah, and the other editors of CUNY Law Review for their careful reading and generous engagement with this article. And a special thank you to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs for their encouragement on writing this piece.
Uruj Sheikh, Reviving the Civic Body: Campaign for Suffrage Inside Prisons, Felony Enfranchisement in D.C., and Lawyering for Abolition, 24 CUNY L. Rev. F. 31 (2021).