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September 24, 2019

How many have lost their right to vote due to the war on drugs?

Today, Tuesday, September 24, 2019, marks National Voter Registration Day.  This website provides this account of this notable special day:

National Voter Registration Day is a national holiday celebrating our democracy. It was first observed in 2012 and has been growing in popularity every year since.... The holiday has been endorsed by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). It is further supported by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), and the National Association of Election Officials (The Election Center).

Every year millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don’t update their registration, or aren’t sure how to register. National Voter Registration Day wants to make sure everyone has the opportunity to vote. On Tuesday September 24, 2019 volunteers and organizations from all over the country will “hit the streets” in a single day of coordinated field, technology and media efforts. National Voter Registration Day seeks to create broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise....

What It Will Accomplish

  • Registering Voters: In 2018 over 800,000 voters used National Voter Registration Day to register to vote across all 50 states.
  • Mobilizing Volunteers: Each year the holiday’s growing number of local partners engage upwards to 10,000 local volunteers.
  • Educating Voters: Millions of voters need to register and re-register every year. By utilizing new technology and leveraging partners, we’ll educate Americans in all 50 states about how to register, sign up for election reminders, check their registration online, get mail ballots, learn about early voting and more.
  • Uniting for a Common Purpose: National Voter Registration Day is a day of civic unity. It’s an opportunity to set aside differences and celebrate democracy and the rights and opportunities we all share as Americans.

Though I am ever eager to "celebrate democracy and the rights and opportunities we all share as Americans," I never want to lose sight of the unfortunate reality that not all adult Americans share in the rights and opportunities of voting because of widespread felon disenfranchisement laws.

The Sentencing Project recent published this helpful primer on felony disenfranchisement, which includes these disconcerting statistics:

As of 2016, 6.1 million Americans were prohibited from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses....  An estimated 3.1 million people are disenfranchised due to state laws that restrict voting rights even after completion of sentences....

Felony disenfranchisement policies have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.  Black Americans of voting age are more than four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one of every 13 black adults disenfranchised nationally.  As of 2016, in four states — Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent) — more than one in five black adults was disenfranchised. In total, 2.2 million black citizens are banned from voting.

Because I view any and all forms of felony disenfranchisement to be inconsistent with a robust commitment to democracy, I generally oppose any and all forms of felony disenfranchisement.  But, as the question in the title of this post indicates, I found myself recently thinking and wondering about just how many votes have been lost as a result of the modern drug war.  Though only about 20% of all incarcerated persons are imprisoned for a drug offense, I suspect that a higher proportion of those disenfranchised for a felony may be drug offenders.  Calculating an exact number of disenfranchised persons with a drug felony wold be quite hard, but it is easy to be concerned that robust American voting "rights and opportunities" are another casualty of the modern drug war.

September 24, 2019 at 12:49 AM | Permalink


As of 2016, 6.1 million Americans were prohibited from owning guns due to laws that disarm citizens convicted of felony offenses.... An estimated 3.1 million people are disarmed due to state laws that restrict gun-ownership rights even after completion of sentences....

84% of those convicted under the ACCA are black men who only make-up 7% of Americans.

Posted by: NRA | Sep 24, 2019 4:41:11 AM

Actually, NRA, a whole lot more Americans are prohibited from POSSESSING guns due to laws that disarm citizens convicted of felony offenses and even domestic violence misdemeanors. With only a few minor exceptions, federal law (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)) makes it a crime to possesses any firearm or ammunition with a felony (or DV misdemeanor) and this is PERMANENT criminalization for individuals (unless and until they get their rights restored under state law).

So, NRA, I am fairly certain that there are TENS OF MILLIONS of Americans prohibited from owning guns due to federal laws that disarm citizens/deny Second Amendment rights to those with a criminal record.

Posted by: Doug B | Sep 24, 2019 9:59:08 AM

The numbers for Virginia need to be updated. In 2016 the governor restored voting rights for everyone who had completed their sentence. I was one of them.

He did not restore gun rights. And the NRA supports Virginia's "Project Exile," which says that if someone who was falsely convicted of a non-violent crime 42 years ago and has had an otherwise perfectly clean record before and since, should get a mandatory five-year prison sentence if they're ever alone in a room or vehicle where's there's a firearm. As such, I laughed out loud when I heard that a city had declared the NRA a terrorist organization. It serves them right for playing both sides against the middle. Why should I support their RKBA when they won't support mine?

Posted by: Keith Lynch | Sep 24, 2019 10:46:08 PM

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