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April 5, 2018

Reviewing some modern felony disenfranchisement realities

Stateline has this new piece providing a crisp accounting of modern felony disenfranchisement realities and concerns. I recommend the full piece, which is headlined "Felony Voting Laws Are Confusing; Activists Would Ditch Them Altogether." Here are excerpts:

Disenfranchised felons are about 2.5 percent of the general voting-age population, but that number triples among African-Americans, according to estimates from the Sentencing Project. The disparity is starkest in the Southeast, where more than 20 percent of black voters are disenfranchised in some states.

In Louisiana, where an estimated 108,000 people are disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions, people aren’t allowed to vote until they have finished their parole. For many, that means decades.

At 72, Checo Yancy has been out of prison for over 14 years.  But he’ll be on parole until 2056 and unlikely to cast a ballot before he dies. He is a plaintiff in a Louisiana case that seeks to restore voting rights to people as soon as they leave prison. The case may be decided as soon as this week....

Activists in Florida collected more than 840,000 signatures to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow people with a felony conviction to vote once they complete probation or parole. The state has imposed a lifetime voting ban on 1.7 million Florida residents with felony convictions.  Only a pardon from the governor can restore their voting rights. And in a separate suit challenging the state’s system, a federal judge called it “crushingly restrictive” and later ordered the clemency board to adopt strict criteria and timelines for reviewing applications.

Many who seek to change the laws say the restrictions are rooted in racism, noting that many states enacted them shortly after blacks gained the right to vote. Robert McDuff, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice, is also challenging the list of crimes in the state constitution that disenfranchises an estimated 218,000 people, “chosen because of the framers’ belief that they were disproportionately committed by African-Americans, and it was part of the larger effort by the framers of the 1890 constitution to eliminate the African-American vote.”...

Those who want to ease the restrictions argue that voting helps former inmates feel included and engaged in the community, reducing the likelihood of recidivism. That’s not the way many governors see it. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed felons to vote once they left prison. “Requiring convicted felons to wait before allowing them to vote provides an incentive to maintain a clean record and avoid subsequent convictions,” Ricketts said in his veto letter. Although the bill was reintroduced this year, a spokesman for the governor said his position has not changed.

In recent years, some conservative states have lifted other restrictions on felons, like those that bar them from receiving professional licenses or food stamps, hoping to reduce recidivism and save money on criminal justice costs such as incarceration, probation and parole.

Louisiana state Rep. Walt Leger, a Democrat who has sponsored criminal justice legislation, said the prospect of saving money can get both parties on board. Restoring voting rights, though, is still seen as politically risky. “That financial conversation is not necessarily a part of the right to vote conversation,” he said. “So for some it continues to be a soft-on-crime versus tough-on-crime issue.”

April 5, 2018 at 10:27 PM | Permalink


I have never understood and continue to be dumbfounded why convicted felons can't vote. I have been in the federal criminal justice system for 15 years and it still boggles my mind that we can't treat humans as humans. Yes, we make mistakes, but taking the ability of one person to vote because they committed a felony offense does not make sense. There are actually some states that permanently ban ex-felons from voting, while many others simply prohibit it while in prison, probation, or parole - sometimes people are on probation for 10 or 20 years. They've done the time, maybe it time to allow them to vote again too and make them feel human. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: atomicfrog | Apr 6, 2018 9:27:45 AM

Over the last twenty years or so, some significant movement was made on this subject, but it would be sensible just to stop it. I think the places that have it manage okay with convicted prisoners voting while in prison, but regardless, once a person is out of prison -- at least after a relatively short period of time -- they should be able to vote.

This is a gratuitous punishment that historically had racist and classist overtones while still having some lingering effects there.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 6, 2018 10:10:30 AM

I think atomicfrog makes a good point, and I'd go further. Allowing those on parole or probation to vote would give them a greater connection to their society and perhaps make it less likely they'd offend again.

Posted by: DRF | Apr 6, 2018 1:21:41 PM

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