By Jueseppi B.
A troubling story that has not gotten much attention this election season — or any recent one, for that matter — is why a certain group of roughly 5.3 million Americans won’t be allowed to vote. It isn’t because they’re underage or non-citizens or mentally incompetent. It isn’t because they’re unregistered or physically unable to get to the polls. It isn’t even because they’re limping around with a chronic case of political apathy.
The reason they can’t vote is that they’re felons.
Oh, well. Felons, you say. They’re criminals, for Pete’s sake. Of course they shouldn’t have the right to vote. But why is that, exactly?
If a convicted felon is released from prison and expected to become a useful, law abiding citizen and reintegrate themselves back into society…why would the American right to vote not be afforded that ex-convict?
“Felony voting restrictions in the U.S. are political anachronisms reflecting values incompatible with modern democratic principles. At the edge of the millennium these laws have no purpose. To the contrary, they arbitrarily deny convicted offenders the ability to vote regardless of the nature of their crimes or the severity of their sentences, they create political ‘outcasts’ from taxpaying, law-abiding citizens who are ex-offenders, they distort the country’s electoral process and they diminish the black vote, countering decades of voting rights gains…
Given the major impact of felony disenfranchisement laws on the voting population, and in particular their strikingly disproportionate impact on African Americans, policymakers should consider alternative policies that will better protect voting rights without injury to legitimate state criminal justice interests. We believe the best course of action would be to remove conviction-based restrictions on voting rights. At the federal level, Congress should enact legislation to restore voting rights in federal elections to citizens convicted of a felony, so that the ability to vote in federal elections is not subject to varying state laws. State legislatures should also eliminate state laws that curtail the franchise for persons with felony convictions within their states.”
Oct. 1998 – Human Rights Watch
“The United States may have the most restrictive disenfranchisement policy in the world. Such prohibitions on the right to vote undermine both the voting system and the fundamental rights of ex-offenders.”
Mar. 16, 2005 – John Conyers, Jr., LLB
For information on your states felon voting laws…….State Felon Voting Laws
Voter suppression comes in many forms:
Voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from exercising their right to vote. It is distinguished from political campaigning in that campaigning attempts to change likely voting behavior by changing the opinions of potential voters through persuasion and organization. Voter suppression instead attempts to reduce the number of voters who might vote against the candidate or proposition advocated by the suppressors.
The tactics of voter suppression can range from minor “dirty tricks” that make voting inconvenient, up to blatantly illegal activities that physically intimidate prospective voters to prevent them from casting ballots. Voter suppression could be particularly effective if a significant amount of voters are intimidated individually because the voter might not consider his or her single vote important.
In 2004, 5.3 million Americans were denied the right to vote because of previous felony convictions. Thirteen states permanently disenfranchise convicted felons; eighteen states restore voting rights after completion of prison, parole, and probation; four states re-enfranchise felons after they have been released from prison and have completed parole; thirteen allow felons who have been released from prison to vote, and two states do not disenfranchise felons at all. Some states require felons to complete a process to restore voting rights, but offender advocates say such processes can be very difficult.
The United States is the only democracy in the world that regularly bans large numbers of felons from voting after they have discharged their sentences. Many countries including Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Peru, Sweden, and Zimbabwe allow prisoners to vote (unless convicted of crimes against the electoral system). Some countries, notably the U.K., disenfranchise people for only as long as they are in prison.
This form of vote suppression in the United States disproportionately affects minorities including African-Americans and Latinos. Disenfranchisement of felons is opposed by some as a form of the medieval practice of civil death.
The National Advancement for the Advancement of Colored People came to the Florida Capitol on Tuesday to launch a national campaign against policies that withhold voting rights from millions of people who have a felony conviction on their record.
With national NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealousand Golden Globe-winning actor Charles Duttonheadlining, the group tried to shine a spotlight on the the issue of “felony disenfranchisement.”
“Voting is a right,” said Jealous, speaking from the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. “In this state, the governor has decided to turn back the clock.”
Last year, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet ended the policy of automatically restoring rights to released felons, a policy started under former Gov.Charlie Crist. Most states automatically restore the right to vote to felons who have served their prison time.
Under Crist, more than 150,000 ex-felons had their rights restored. Under Scott, less than 300 people have had their rights restored. More than 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida are disenfranchised, giving the state one of thehighest rates in the nation.
Scott said last year that the changes were enacted in a reform effort that “prioritizes public safety and creates incentives to avoid criminal activity.”
NAACP leaders counter that the move was one of many that Republicans have used to suppress the votes of blacks and minorities. Blacks make up about half of Florida’s male prison population, though they account for less than 15 percent of the state’s population.
Speaking at the NAACP event, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said that was one move among many aimed at suppressing the votes of blacks, who form a loyal Democratic voting block.
“Why the long waiting period?” said Joyner. “The governor claims it seems reasonable. Reasonable? Reasonable because too many ex-offenders are returning to a life of crime, or, reasonable if the GOP is trying to stack the deck against Democratic candidates?”
NAACP will be putting up billboards across the country with pictures of former felons who have been denied the right to vote, including celebrity spokespeople like Judge Greg Mathis and Dutton.
“I was released from prison in 1976 and I was only allowed to vote in 2007,” said Dutton, who has starred in movies like Alien 3 and A Time to Kill.
The aim of the campaign, said Jealous, is to bring more public awareness to the issue of “felony disenfranchisement” and convince governors in states like Florida, Virginia, Iowa and Kentucky that they are they are on the wrong side of history.
“It’s easy to do dirt in the dark,” he said. “It’s harder to do dirt in the light.”