Facing South
Facing South

Locking Up the Vote: 4 million Southerners disenfranchised by voting restrictions

Over the last year, the spread of voter photo ID laws and other new voting restrictions have earned widsepread attention from election watchdogs and the media. But one important issue has largely escaped public scrutiny: the large number of citizens blocked from voting due to a past felony conviction.

In part, the lack of attention to felon disenfranchisement laws has been due to a dearth of fresh data. That changed last week, when the D.C.-based Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform group, released a new report on the impact of disenfranchisement laws in each state.

As covered before in Facing South, felon disenfranchisement laws have always had a unique history in the South, where they were used as a form of political control over newly-freed African-Americans.

That legacy lives on today: According to Sentencing Project data, more than 4.15 million Southerners are denied voting rights due to felony disenfranchisement. That's five percent of the total Southern electorate, and more than 70 percent of the 5.85 million voters nationally barred from voting by such laws.

The racial legacy lives on, too: Nearly 12 percent of black voters in Southern states are barred from casting a ballot due to felon disenfranchisement laws. In Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, more than 20 percent of African-Americans are denied the franchise.

Laws denying ex-felons the vote unquestionably have an impact on election results. While many Democrats blame the outcome of the Florida 2000 election on Ralph Nader's 97,421 votes, a bigger factor was the 827,000 voters -- disproportionately African-American and Democratic-leaning -- blocked under the state's disenfranchisement law.

That could be the case again in 2012. In Florida, for example, former GOP governor Charlie Crist famously relaxed the state's prohibitions on ex-felon voting. But in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Scott reversed course, ordering a five-year waiting period before voting rights can be restored.

Today, one in 10 eligible Florida citizens are banned from voting under the laws -- the highest disenfranchisement rate in the nation, and a huge swath of the electorate in one of the country's biggest battleground states.

Read a full copy of The Sentencing Project report here [pdf].

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Felons right to vote

Did anyone see the numbers? Case by case? We don't have the man power to even do a case by case review. The laws that the UCLA are trying to put on the ballot to allow voting rights to felons are only for non violent felons. Do you know that if you release a balloon in the air full of helium you have just committed a felony? So ok so you do this in a no nonsense cop comes along and tickets you, you go to court and the judge confirms justification of you breaking the law. Your right to vote is gone, you wait years to get a chance to go before the judge. (by the way this has happened to some people in the state of FL) Really think about what you are saying and how in one moment, one second it could be you denied the right to vote.

Non sequitur

If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote.

That's a non sequitur. If you believe in that argument, then why not extend it to misdemeanors as well? Should people with speeding tickets and DUIs have a role in making the law for everyone else?

I might as well make the argument that incarcerated felons shouldn't be enumerated for redistricting purposes -- something that makes a difference in the drawing of district lines, given that correctional facilities are often located in very different areas to those where inmates live.

Felon disenfranchisement may have ancient origins, but so does stoning adulterers.

It's not about race or the South

Every state but two disenfranchises felons to one degree or another, and this is a practice with roots in ancient Greece and Rome. Yes, some Southern states put a racial twist on the practice in the post-Reconstruction Era, but those laws are no longer on the books.

Felon disenfranchisement makes sense: If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison.

Read more about this issue on our website here [ http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-voting/538-answering-the-... ] and our congressional testimony here: [ http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/Clegg100316.pdf ]

I don't think that automatic

I don't think that automatic Felon disenfranchisement (after release) makes sense. Mainly because it means that those most effected by a particular law (whether justly or unjustly) have no say about whether that law should continue or be modified. Contrary to your view, I think that disenfranchisement (as well as all other post sentence restrictions) should be done carefully, on a case by case basis after the state has shown cause.

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