A critical part of criminal justice reform is making it easier for those with criminal records to reenter society. This means greater job training, more employment opportunities, affordable housing, and stronger laws prohibiting discrimination and facilitating the expungement of old convictions.  Successful reentry into a free society, however, requires more than just the basic needs of life. It also requires the restoration of basic rights, and there is no more basic right in a democracy than the right to vote.

Between 2016 and 2020, thirteen states expanded voting rights for individuals with felony convictions.  The Marshall Project examined the voting rolls in four states that recently reformed their voting laws — Nevada, Kentucky, Iowa and New Jersey — and found that “only a fraction of the thousands of formerly incarcerated people whose voting rights were restored in time for the 2020 election made it back to the voter rolls.”  Indeed, less than one in four eligible voters who had been formerly incarcerated were registered to vote as compared to almost three in four eligible voters among the general population. Of note, in New Jersey, they found that only 83 out of 2,000 people released from prison in 2019 had registered to vote in time for the 2020 election. Their research found that many people in these states were simply unaware their rights had been restored and that turnout was generally greater in states where active steps had been taken to inform formerly incarcerated people of their rights.

Without a formal campaign to educate the public, low turnout is understandable especially given that voting by the formerly incarcerated traditionally has been — and continues to be in some states — a criminal act.  Also, the wide disparity in voting restrictions from state-to-state (even among states that have reformed their laws) make it even more confusing for people. For example, in Kentucky and Iowa, certain felony convictions are not covered nor are people on probation or parole. Whether (and to what extent) one can exercise a fundamental constitutional right should not depend on one’s geography, but to the extent it does, people need to know.

The Marshall Project clearly demonstrates the need for greater outreach to educate eligible voters and for national voting standards. Moreover, as I noted in a prior post, no matter how deeply rooted this practice may be, depriving individuals with a felony conviction of their fundamental right to vote — depending entirely on where they live and despite the disproportionate impact on racial minorities and the lack of any compelling justification — should no longer have a place in the American system of justice.

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of William C. Silverman William C. Silverman

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer…

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers and ensuring widespread participation in these projects.

Bill has robust private and public sector experience and a strong criminal and civil background. He has worked extensively on government investigations and white collar criminal matters, as well as complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he led criminal investigations, conducted trials and handled Second Circuit appeals.

Throughout his career, Bill has dedicated himself to the promotion of equal access to justice through pro bono service, particularly in the area of family court, anti-trafficking, and immigration.

Bill spearheaded a partnership among several law firms, corporations and the New York City Family Court to provide free legal advice to pro se litigants. The New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program now has more than 400 volunteer attorneys from 40 major firms and corporations. Bill also helped build a coalition of organizations in a successful effort to secure additional Family Court judges in New York. He is now part of an effort spearheaded by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to simplify the New York Court System from 11 trial courts to three.

Bill serves as counsel to the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. In that capacity he has been a strong advocate for changes in the law and public policy to protect victims of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. He also represents individual clients in this area, including a successful federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a trafficking victim against her traffickers. For his work, he was named by domestic violence nonprofit Sanctuary For Families as one of “New York’s New Abolitionists.”

Bill has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services and the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference. In 2014, he attended a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and other policymakers on the need for access to legal services in immigration proceedings.

Bill has been recognized for his public service with the Abely Pro Bono Leadership Award from Sanctuary For Families and Columbia Law School (2019); the Special Leadership Award for All-Around Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law from City & State Reports (2015); the Commitment to Justice Award for Outstanding Partner from inMotion (2008); and the Matthew G. Leonard Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Achievement from MFY Legal Services (2007).

Outside of his work at the firm, Bill serves on various committees and non-profit boards. Bill is currently chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, a non-partisan citizen organization devoted to improving New York State courts, and is formerly chairman of Legal Information For Families Today (LIFT), an organization devoted to unrepresented litigants in Family Court.