felon disenfranchisement

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National: Governors Could Restore Voting Rights To Millions Of People If They Wanted To | Huffington Post

There’s a growing bipartisan consensus in Congress that restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions is a crucial aspect of criminal justice reform. But governors have a massive amount of discretion in deciding whether to reinstate voting rights for millions of ex-felons who are still denied the right to vote, as recent decisions in Kentucky and Iowa illustrate. On Tuesday, Kentucky’s outgoing Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, signed an executive order that would automatically restore voting rights to at least 140,000 former felons who have served their sentences. Kentucky is just one of just three states, along with Florida and Iowa, that permanently disenfranchises all people with felony convictions. Up until now, a Kentuckian with a felony conviction would have to individually petition the governor to have his or her rights restored. As in other states, permanent felon disenfranchisement disproportionately affects racial minorities. An estimated 1 in 5 African-Americans in Kentucky are disenfranchised, compared to 1 in 13 nationally.

Full Article: Governors Could Restore Voting Rights To Millions Of People If They Wanted To.

Editorials: The election reforms that could heal American democracy | Sean McElwee/Salon

Since America’s founding, the franchise has been dramatically expanded in waves: first, universal suffrage for all men (first, through the abolition of property ownership requirements for white men, then the 15th Amendment) then the expansion of suffrage to women and finally the Voting Rights Act, which abolished poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, the franchise is still under fire, from racially biased voter ID laws and felon disenfranchisement, as well as our complex registration system. Automatic voter registration and the abolition of voter ID laws could be part of the next wave of the slow march to true democracy. Recently, Hillary Clinton called out Republicans for their strategy of suppressing the vote and then called for automatic voting registration. While many pundits quickly chalked this up to an attempt to revive “the Obama coalition,” in fact, Clinton has been pushing for democracy reforms since before “the Obama coalition” existed. In 2005 she and Senator Barbara Boxer put forward the “Count Every Vote Act.” The law would have made same-day registration the law of the land, expanded early voting and made election day a holiday. In addition, Clinton has been fighting against felon disenfranchisement, though Rand Paul, who has a penchant for receiving praise for things he hasn’t done, has recently been garnering credit for his talk on the subject.

Full Article: Hillary Clinton’s revolutionary idea: The election reforms that could heal American democracy - Salon.com.

National: With boost from Clinton, efforts to expand voting access advance | MSNBC

States from Rhode Island to Louisiana took steps this week toward making voting easier. In Washington, a new bill that would automatically register citizens to vote when they turn 18 is gaining traction among Democrats. And Ohio’s top voting official blocked a Democratic lawmaker on Twitter amid a spat over efforts to increase access to the ballot in the nation’s most pivotal swing state. It’s more evidence that Hillary Clinton’s major speech on voting last Thursday helped move along a conversation – already underway, to be sure – about how to to expand access to the ballot, especially by modernizing voter registration systems. It’s a conversation that threatens to put Republicans on the defensive after years of playing offense on the issue with a wave of restrictive voting laws.

Full Article: With boost from Clinton, efforts to expand voting access advance | MSNBC.

National: Push to restore voting rights for felons gathers momentum | MSNBC

“It would be transformative if everybody voted,” President Obama told a crowd in Cleveland Wednesday. He even mused about the idea of making voting mandatory. That’s not going to happen any time soon. But in the wake of record low voter turnout in last fall’s midterm elections, a movement is growing in Washington and around the country to dismantle a set of restrictions that keep nearly 6 million Americans from the polls: felon disenfranchisement laws. Many state restrictions on felon voting were imposed in the wake of Reconstruction, as the South looked for ways to suppress black political power. But now, the falling crime rates of the last two decades have prompted a broader reassessment of tough-on-crime policies. Meanwhile, the ongoing Republican-led assault on voting has triggered a backlash that aims to expand, rather than contract, voting rights. On Wednesday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), backed by an array of civil- and voting-rights groups, introduced a bill that would restore voting rights for federal elections to Americans with past criminal convictions upon their release from incarceration. That came on the heels of a similar but more limited bill introduced last month by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would apply only to non-violent offenders. Neither measure is likely to get much traction in the Republican-controlled Congress. But in the states, there has been plenty of movement lately.

Full Article: Push to restore voting rights for felons gathers momentum | MSNBC.

Editorials: Why Can’t Ex-Cons Vote? | Leon Neyfakh/Slate

A bill is currently working its way through the Minnesota statehouse that would restore the right to vote to some 47,000 Americans, all of whom have been convicted on felony charges and are currently on probation or parole. Under existing Minnesota law, it is illegal for these 47,000 people to vote in elections, just as it is for more than 4 million other non-incarcerated felons around the country. If the legislation passes—so far it has gotten through two committees in the Senate, but has yet to move forward in the House—the state would join 13 others in allowing felons to vote as soon as they leave prison. (Maine and Vermont allow felons to vote while still in prison.) Felon enfranchisement measures tend to face opposition from conservatives. But the Minnesota bill has built strong momentum among Republicans. The bill’s supporters on the right include state Rep. Tony Cornish, a former police chief known for wearing a pin on his lapel depicting a pair of handcuffs, who has signed on as the bill’s chief author in the House. Of the remaining 44 lawmakers in the Senate and House who have officially come out in support of the enfranchisement measure, about one-third are Republicans. The bill has received endorsements from several law enforcement associations and libertarian groups as well.

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Editorials: The Racist Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement | Brent Staples/New York Times

The state laws that barred nearly six million people with felony convictions from voting in the midterm elections this month date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Southern lawmakers were working feverishly to neutralize the black electorate. Poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and cross burnings were effective weapons in this campaign. But statutes that allowed correctional systems to arbitrarily and permanently strip large numbers of people of the right to vote were a particularly potent tool in the campaign to undercut African-American political power. This racially freighted system has normalized disenfranchisement in the United States — at a time when our peers in the democratic world rightly see it as an aberration. It has also stripped one in every 13 black persons of the right to vote — a rate four times that of nonblacks nationally. At the same time, it has allowed disenfranchisement to move beyond that black population — which makes up 38 percent of those denied the vote — into the body politic as a whole. One lesson here is that punishments designed for one pariah group can be easily expanded to include others as well. The history of disenfranchisement was laid out in a fascinating 2003 study by Angela Behrens, Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza. They found that state felony bans exploded in number during the late 1860s and 1870s, particularly in the wake of the Fifteenth Amendment, which ostensibly guaranteed black Americans the right to vote. They also found that the larger the state’s black population, the more likely the state was to pass the most stringent laws that permanently denied people convicted of crimes the right to vote. These bans were subsequently strengthened as the Jim Crow era began to take hold.

Full Article: The Racist Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement - NYTimes.com.

National: An estimated 5.9 million voting-age Americans won’t be able to vote next Tuesday | The Washington Post

Next Tuesday, tens of millions of Americans will take to the polls to vote on everything from ballot issues to federal, state and local representation. But millions of voting-age adults will be sitting this one out. An estimated 5.85 million Americans won’t be able to vote due to prior felony convictions, according to an estimate from the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice nonprofit think tank. Of those, roughly 44 percent are estimated to be felons who live in the 12 states that still restrict voting rights after sentences have been served, a practice that excludes as many as 1 in 10 voting-age residents of Florida, the state with the highest rates of felon disenfranchisement. Such policies have a disproportionate impact on blacks, restricting the vote for roughly 1 in 13 voting-age blacks nationwide.

Full Article: An estimated 5.9 million voting-age Americans won’t be able to vote next Tuesday - The Washington Post.

Editorials: Restore voting rights to ex-felons | Al Jazeera

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been taking stands for justice lately, for which he is to be applauded. On Feb. 11, in a speech at Georgetown University, he issued a plea for states to lift bans on voting by ex-felons, also called returning citizens. On the heels of his earlier suggestion that prosecutors and legislators re-examine mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders and disparities in crack cocaine sentences, this latest call suggests a new pattern of priorities coming out of the office of the attorney general. The New York Times predicted Holder’s suggestions would “elevate issues of criminal justice and race in the president’s second term and create a lasting civil rights legacy.” Holder is reportedly the first attorney general to take up this cause. It has been a long time coming. Laws that deny ex-offenders the vote have a long and dark history. Although felons were prevented from voting in most states from the very beginning of the republic, after the Civil War, these laws were greatly expanded in the South — and virtually all felons in those states were black. The South’s loss of the Civil War in 1865 presented former slave owners with dual dilemmas. Their captive labor supply had been liberated, and those formerly involuntary workers were going to be allowed to vote. In the words of one former slave, “bottom rail on the top.” Soon after the withdrawal of federal troops in 1877, however, white entrepreneurs of the South solved both problems with two linked concepts: convict leasing and felon disenfranchisement. First, massive numbers of African-Americans were arrested for little or no reason and sent to work in mines, mills and fields, creating an almost limitless supply of effectively free labor. Under newly enhanced (and in some cases newly created) laws, these ex-felons were then forever after denied the right to vote. This process also planted in the American psyche a viciously tenacious stereotype of African-American criminality. Douglas Blackmon’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book “Slavery by Another Name” describes these circumstances in excruciating detail: The depraved system has made enduring marks on today’s criminal justice landscape, in the form of felon disenfranchisement laws and racially disparate arrest, conviction and sentencing practices. Michelle Alexander, in her book “The New Jim Crow,” compares these laws and today’s mass incarceration of inmates of color to historical injustices.

Full Article: Restore voting rights to ex-felons | Al Jazeera America.

Editorials: Should Felons Lose the Right to Vote? | Daniel Weeks/The Atlantic

Although the Constitution is silent on whether people convicted of felonies should have their rights curtailed, most American states have chosen to restrict the franchise in modern times. Nearly 6 million people in 48 states—2.5 percent of the adult population—are currently ineligible to vote because of a prior conviction. Two-thirds of them have completed their prison terms, including two million people in 35 states who are prevented from voting while on probation or parole, and two million more in 12 states who continue to be disenfranchised once they have served out their sentence in full. In the four most restrictive states—Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia—all citizens who are convicted of a felony permanently forfeit the right to vote, regardless of the offense. Ten states even disenfranchise citizens convicted of misdemeanors while they are serving time.

Full Article: Should Felons Lose the Right to Vote? - Daniel Weeks - The Atlantic.

Editorials: Our Nation has a Secret: Felony Disenfranchisement in America | Jotaka L. Eaddy/Huffington Post

Today, nearly 4.4 million people in America have families, own homes and have even started their own businesses. They are pursuing the American Dream with one exception — they cannot vote. Felony conviction laws are blocking them from the ballot box. This barrier to full participation in our country’s democracy underscores why felony disenfranchisement is as much an international issue as incarceration rates and prison reform. On December 10th — Human Rights Day — we must continue to make this injustice visible. It is no secret that the U.S. is home to more than 2.4 million prisoners, surpassing countries like Russia, Brazil, and South Africa combined. The data becomes even more jarring when broken down by race. Blacks, who constitute roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for 38 percent of the prison population by state. Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, account for 21 percent of the state prison population. Whites, who account for about 78 percent of the country’s population, only make up 35 percent of the prison population.

Full Article: Our Nation has a Secret: Felony Disenfranchisement in America | Jotaka L. Eaddy.

Editorials: How Prisons Have Changed America’s Electoral Politics | Heather Ann Thompson/The Atlantic

What has it really cost the United States to build the world’s most massive prison system? To answer this question, some point to the nearly two million people who are now locked up in an American prison—overwhelmingly this nation’s poorest, most mentally ill, and least-educated citizens—and ponder the moral costs. Others have pointed to the enormous expense of having more than seven million Americans under some form of correctional supervision and argued that the system is not economically sustainable. Still others highlight the high price that our nation’s already most-fragile communities, in particular, have paid for the rise of such an enormous carceral state. A few have also asked Americans to consider what it means for the future of our society that our system of punishment is so deeply racialized.

Full Article: How Prisons Have Changed America's Electoral Politics - Heather Ann Thompson - The Atlantic.