One of every 40 American adults cannot vote in November’s election because of state laws that bar people with past felony convictions from casting ballots. Experts say racial disparities in sentencing have had a disproportionate effect on the voting rights of blacks and Hispanics. A report by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice reform, estimates that 6.1 million Americans will not be allowed to vote next month because of these laws. State laws that bar voting vary widely. Three swing states — Florida, Iowa and Virginia — have some of the harshest laws; they impose a lifetime voting ban on felons, although their voting rights can be restored on a case-by-case basis by a governor or a court. On the other end of the spectrum, Maine and Vermont place no restrictions on people with felony convictions, allowing them to vote while incarcerated.
“The message that comes across to them is: Yes, you have all the responsibilities of a citizen now, but you’re basically still a second-class citizen because we are not permitting you to be engaged in the political process,” said Christopher Uggen, lead author of the report and a professor at the University of Minnesota.
Felon disenfranchisement laws have a long history and are based on the idea that those who violate society’s rules should not be allowed to help set them.
Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, explained why his administration made it more difficult for felons to apply to restore their right to vote. “These are felonies, and we want to make sure people have turned their life around,” he said.