Restore Voting Rights to Ex-Felons

The Christian Science Monitor reports today on the move to provide ex-felons with the right to vote. 37 states now allow ex-felons to vote. That leaves 13 more we need to work on. The Sentencing Project i s leading the charge:

A recent study by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit criminal-justice advocacy organization, found that as a result of the changes since 1996, 471,000 ex-cons have had voting rights restored. But the study also estimates that 3.9 million Americans - 1 in 50 adults - can't vote. And because of the racial imbalance in the criminal justice system, a large percentage of them are minority. Indeed, 1.4 million black men are disenfranchised. That's 13 percent of the African-American male population, a figure seven times the national average.

"The irony is that 50 years after Brown v. the Board of Education ... we actually see increasing numbers of people of color losing their voting rights," says Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project.

....The American public has a fairly clear stance. In a poll commissioned .... last year, 80 percent favored giving all ex-cons the right to vote. But only 31 percent favored extending voting rights to those currently serving their time.

As we point out here, quoting from an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, restoring the vote to ex-felons should be a priority of the Democratic party:

The net effect — intentional or unintentional — is to dilute African American voting strength. And because African Americans vote disproportionately for Democrats, an issue that affects African Americans is an issue that affects the Democratic Party.

Low-income voters are also overrepresented in prisons, and they too tend to vote Democratic. This effect is not just on the fringes. Our estimates show that at least seven of every 10 votes cast by these lost felon voters would go to Democratic candidates. In the 2000 presidential election, more than 4.6 million Americans were barred from voting because of felon disenfranchisement laws across the country. Of those, 35% had already served their time.

Our work suggests that if [Florida's] 613,000 former felons had been permitted to vote — and even if you factor in a far-lower-than-expected turnout rate than the general population — Al Gore would have defeated George W. Bush by about 60,000 votes and would have been elected president. What's more, if all U.S. felons — in and out of prison — had been allowed to vote, Gore might have carried the nation by more than 1 million votes.

Here's more on the racist impact of felon disenfranchisement laws.

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