When right meets left over the issue of access to the voting booth, it gets our attention. Case in point is GOP Sen. Rand Paul’s support for a long-sought objective of some congressional Democrats — restoring the right to vote to convicted felons. It’s a good objective that has parallels with the growing bipartisan questions about the nation’s 40-year-old war on drugs. As drug convictions caused state prisons to quadruple in population through those decades, and federal prisons swelled by 800 percent, the number of disenfranchised citizens spiked as well. Today, about 5.85 million people nationwide have lost the right to vote because of felonies. Some of them are disenfranchised permanently, depending on the state laws where they live.
In Texas, citizens over 18 are prohibited from voting if they are convicted felons in prison, on parole or on probation supervision. Nearly a half-million Texans fit in those categories out of a voting-age population of 18.9 million. That’s like withholding the right to vote from the entire Corpus Christi metropolitan area.
There is an unmistakable racial tinge to the issue. Because of high conviction rates among African-Americans, about one in every 13 black adults is ineligible to vote in the U.S., according to The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group.