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September 5, 2013

Effective review of history and modern realities of felon disenfranchisement

0613_issuecover_0I just came across this effective recent article in the American Prospect which discusses the history of felony disenfranchisement laws in the United States and their continued impact and import. The piece is titled "The Ex-Con Factor: Felony-disenfranchisement laws suppress black turnout enough to swing elections, and the future of reform is murky," and here are just a few passages that caught my eye:

Virginia is one of four states — along with Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky — that strip voting rights from felons for life.  The U.S. is the world’s only democracy that permits permanent disenfranchisement.  While most states have some restrictions on felons voting, it takes a decree from the governor or a clemency board to restore voting rights in the four states with lifetime bans.  In Virginia alone, 450,000 residents are disenfranchised.  In Florida, the total is an astonishing 1.5 million....

All but two states, Vermont and Maine, disenfranchise felons for some period of time. Thirteen states strip voting rights only for the period of incarceration.  Most have waiting periods with various requirements, like paying fines and completing special applications. Seven states — Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming — have lifetime bans for particular crimes or repeat felony offenders.  They aren’t the strictest laws, but they affect enough potential voters to sway statewide elections.  In Alabama, more than 260,000 residents are stripped of their voting rights; more than half, just over 137,000, are African American.  In Mississippi, blacks account for nearly 60 percent of the 182,000 disenfranchised citizens.

When you add it all up, the numbers are startling.  More than five million Americans are currently disenfranchised because of felony convictions — an increase of some 270,000 over the past decade.  Nearly 1.4 million are ... black men. They represent 24 percent of the total disenfranchised population and a whopping 13 percent of all voting-age African American men.

Black men’s overrepresentation is no accident.  Felony disenfranchisement laws trace back to the post-Reconstruction era when former Confederates and white Southern Democrats rolled back the political gains made by free slaves after the war.  The whole point of these laws was the mass exclusion of black men from mainstream civic life.  It still is.

You can see the effects most clearly in black turnout rates.  The nation’s 27 million African American voters are concentrated in the South and in Northern urban centers.  Almost two-thirds — 66 percent — voted in last year’s presidential election, giving African Americans higher turnout than any other racial group.  But unlike with other groups, there was an odd gender gap: While more than 70 percent of black women voted, only 60 percent of black men went to the polls.  The difference, according to Bernard Fraga of Harvard University, is explained entirely by the huge number of black men who are disenfranchised....

From the start, criminal disenfranchisement laws were part of the white Democrats’ Redemption campaign.  They were written as race-neutral but were racist in their effects, as Middle Tennessee State University history professor Pippa Holloway documents in her book Living in Infamy: Felon Disenfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship. In just the period between 1874 and 1882, every Southern state but Texas found ways to disenfranchise those convicted of minor crimes like petty theft.  “Some Southern states changed their laws to upgrade misdemeanor property crimes to felonies,” Holloway explains, “and finally, Southern courts interpreted existing laws to include misdemeanors as disenfranchising crimes.”...

For those who want to end this last vestige of Jim Crow, the past two decades have brought decidedly mixed news.  On the one hand, nine states — including the South’s two largest — have repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws since the late 1990s. In 1997, the Texas Legislature — under Governor George W. Bush — ended its two-year waiting period for regaining eligibility after release, restoring rights to 317,000 citizens.  Seven years later, in 2004, another Governor Bush — Jeb — ordered the state clemency board to simplify Florida’s procedure, leading to the restoration of voting rights for 152,000 people.

But after the Tea Party wave election of 2010, Republicans in several states began to call again for stricter disenfranchisement.  In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott reversed the reforms that had smoothed the process for ex-felons and added a five-year period for rights restoration for nonviolent felonies, and a seven-year period for violent ones and other serious crimes.  One in ten voting-age Floridians now lacks voting rights as a result of past crimes.  Florida’s harsh disenfranchisement laws are reflected in another stark statistic — more than 25 percent of all disenfranchised Americans reside in the state.

In North Carolina, where ex-felons are granted voting rights after completing parole or probation, Republican lawmakers began pushing one of the nation’s toughest laws this spring.  It would impose a five-year waiting period and then require the ex-felons to present affidavits from two registered voters vouching for their “upstanding moral character” and win unanimous approval from their local board of elections.  The bill’s primary sponsor, state Senator E.S. “Buck” Newton, told Raleigh’s News & Observer that he considered it a lenient measure, because “the vast majority of people I have spoken to regarding election laws think convicted felons should not be able to vote at all.”

Some recent and older related posts:

September 5, 2013 at 11:34 AM | Permalink


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Out of curiosity: While state and local elections can ostensibly prevent felons from voting, wouldn't votes for Congress, or at the very least the President, be considered a federal violation under the equal rights clause? For instance, a felon in California not in the court system can vote for president, but if he moves to Florida, he cannot vote for president? Curious legal implications abound...

Posted by: Eric Knight | Sep 5, 2013 11:50:51 AM

States have the power to regulate voting, including in various respects, who can vote for federal offices. So, in various respects, where you live can determine who can vote for President. Richardson v. Ramirez held that felony disenfranchisement laws generally did not violate the 14A.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 5, 2013 12:10:49 PM

We know half the felons are black, not because of racial bias, but because they commit half the crimes, according to victim surveys. We know the white felons have poor morals, are selfish, do not want to work, but to steal, or get on welfare or disability.

So Democrats will have to come up with something to offer Republicans in exchange for allowing these additional millions of Democratic Party voters to vote. If the Republicans do not get something to balance these millions of Democratic Party voters, they would be ending the already flimsy two-party system. If one allows the illegal aliens to vote on top of the criminals, this nation becomes a Third World toilet. The lawyer has no qualm destroying this nation to grow the role of government, a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 6, 2013 12:00:18 AM

What if the felon changes his ways ?

NPR – ATC – Thu 05 Sep 2013
The Incredible Case Of The Bank Robber Who's Now A Law Clerk


Posted by: Just Plain Jim | Sep 6, 2013 5:29:14 AM

LOL good one SC

especially this one!

"this nation becomes a Third World toilet."

But if you talk to the average person on the street they would tell you the former United States of America is pretty much already a "Third World Toilet"!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 6, 2013 6:42:09 AM


Listened to that story. Messages?

No need for judge apology or to limit sentences to 5 years. Felon said ithimself. He needed those 12 years to improve. Sociopaths can thrive in structured settings. First, he is alive off drugs and alcohol. Then, he needed the time to mature.

Sociopaths can do well in the law.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 6, 2013 8:15:14 AM

The U.S. is the world’s only democracy that permits permanent disenfranchisement.

Hong-Kong, U.K., Taiwan and Australia allow felon disenfranchisement.
Additionally, in France, Germany and Netherland (among others), those convicted of treason and/or electoral fraud can be barred from voting and French judges can deprive some convicts of their voting rights.

Posted by: visitor | Sep 6, 2013 2:23:42 PM

well visitor i don't really see a problem with this!

"in France, Germany and Netherland (among others), those convicted of treason and/or electoral fraud can be barred from voting "

Since the crime they are guilty of is trying to corrupt the election process and the punishment is reasonably related to the crime comitted.

But a liftime ban for stealing a hotdog or passing a $5 bad check? NO not in a democracy or even a representative democracry such as we have here.

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 6, 2013 6:25:58 PM

I am a Mitigation Specialist for the Federal Defender of Chicago.

Could someone please tell me the connection between voting and criminality? Is there a Criminals United party to vote for? Where is the harm?

After 37 years of working in the federal courts, I have a strong impression that my clients are politically very conservative. Even those who are minorities.

Posted by: James Tibensky | Sep 6, 2013 6:58:44 PM


Please, do a survey. If ex cons voted for Republicans at a rate anywhere above 25 percent I would favor their voting rights?

Posted by: Suptemacy Claus | Sep 6, 2013 9:16:54 PM

What I've always thought interesting is the idea that somehow the state is barred from prohibiting someone from voting as a result of a criminal conviction because the rate of criminality is higher in the African-American community. Why do the racial particulars of crime have anything to do with whether barring criminals from voting is good policy or not?

Of course, the "wise [sic] Latina" thinks that incarcerated criminals have a right to vote on this basis.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 7, 2013 11:34:13 AM

well fed i feel they have the same right to vote we all do based on the presidnet WE set in the 1700's. You know when we ran the british empire out of here because we had no voice in what they were doing to us here.

This is the same thing. We demand they pay taxes and fees but have no legal voice in what they are or where they go.

We now demand they continue paying them even when we order them not to go to areas that are clearly and legally PUBLIC on pain of prison.

Sorry i think they have every legal and moral right based on the 1700's to run our asses off the pier if they can manage it

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 7, 2013 4:46:55 PM

Rod. That means a bunch of minority criminals will vote for pro-criminal party of the lawyer, the Democratic Party. That is the stealthy, bad faith aim of the left, not fairness. Also, these people, yes, I said, these people, are tax consumers, not tax payers, still ultra-violent, dangerous, blood sucking parasites. They are lawyer clients, thus this line of posts. All the pathologies of today spread further.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 8, 2013 8:35:54 AM

James. You need to tell us whether you are a registered Democrat.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 8, 2013 8:37:50 AM

LOL you SC of all people should know better. Considering the current election sytstem all those minority criminals will be voting on would be the current bunch of criminals who now run this country.

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 8, 2013 2:36:56 PM

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