Thirteen Percent of Black Males Denied Right to Vote

August 24, 2004

The Washington Post reports, "on Election Day it will not matter to some 4.7 million Americans whether they are Republicans, Democrats, independents or whether they have an opinion on anything at all." These 4.7 million individuals are amongst the growing population of Americans who have been convicted of a felony (including a third of whom are "are off parole and 'free'") and live in a state that denies felons, who have served their sentences and have been released, their basic voiting rights. In Florida alone, "nearly one in three African-American men...cannot vote because of this system." states, "Florida is one of only seven states all in the south that strip convicted felons of their voting rights for life." These rules, the Washington Post argues, prohibits "13 percent of African American men the vote." The laws "trace to the mid-1800s, when they were crafted to bar blacks with even minor criminal records from polls."

The 14th Amendment provides that voting rights maybe denied, "for participation in rebellion, or other crime." While few would advocate that felons should have voting rights while in prison, 80% of all Americans believe that voting rights should be restored "to ex-felons who have paid their debt to society [and] can help them feel part of the national or local community." Senator Arlen Specter (R, PA) said of restoring voting rights to ex-felons, "[it] would aid ex-convicts in being reintegrated into society and would be a fair provision on the basic proposition that these people have fully paid their debt to society."
In November of 2003, New York State reinstated voting rights for convicted felons, who have served their sentences. Erika Wood, of the Legal Action Center, applauded New York State's new policy for, "restoring an essential civil right to people who have paid their debt to society and are fully entitled by law to exercise their most fundamental right - the right to vote." Jessie Allen, from the Brennan Center for Justice, suggests that, "some states have moved to reform their criminal disenfranchisement laws. In the last two years, New Mexico repealed its lifetime ban on ex-offenders' voting; Maryland repealed its permanent disenfranchisement of second-time felons; and Connecticut passed a law that allows those on probation to vote."
In these remaining seven states, there does not appear to be a rush to change policies. Last year, Alabama Republican Chair Marty Connors said, "[a]s frank as I can be, we're opposed to [restoring voting rights] because felons don't tend to vote Republican." The Washington Post adds, " [Democrats] have failed to stand up for restoration of rights because they're afraid Republicans will reflexively play the 'soft on crime' card."
Kevin Krajick explains, "[v]oting is not a privilege; it is the basic right that defines a citizen. Those denied it are, in effect, stateless -- people without a country. This is not a partisan issue, but one of basic human rights. People who have paid their debt to society should have their rights restored."

Special thanks to the Center For American Progress for highlighting the Washington Post story.