Wyden, Merkley Co-sponsor Bill to Restore Voting Rights for Qualifying Formerly Incarcerated Individuals 

Senators Unveil ‘Next Step Home Act’ to Build on Success of ‘First Step Act’

Washington, D.C. –  U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they are co-sponsoring the Next Step Home Act, a crucial piece of legislation aimed at restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions who have been released under the First Step Act and successfully reentered society. 

“Making voting easy and accessible shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s an American democracy issue,” Wyden said. “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.”

“The ballot box is the beating heart of our democracy,” Merkley said. “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.” 

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,’” said 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,” said 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. “This not only reduces the rate of recidivism for people returning home from institutions, but also 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 Reverend Adam Russell Taylor, President of Sojourners-SojoAction. “As people of faith, we believe the introduction of theNext 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 Reverend 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.”

The bill text is here.

A web version of this release is here