Politically Speaking

Felony Disfranchisement Laws & How It Affected The 2014 Midterm Elections

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Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement is a policy in place preventing persons from participation in democratic life which is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in 1 of every 13 African-Americans unable to vote.

Felony disfranchisement laws vary from state to state, but 48 states bar incarcerated individuals from casting a ballot, with only Maine and Vermont allowing all inmates to vote. Eight states permanently ban certain individuals with felony convictions from voting and two states bar all persons with felony convictions from voting. There are over a dozen states restrict voting rights for ex-felons even after they’ve finished their sentences — sometimes even for life as is the case in Florida.

“Of the approximately 6 million disfranchised citizens in the Unites States, one-quarter are Floridians,” said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.”

In Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia, felons and ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote, without a pardon from the governor. Virginia and Florida have supplementary programs which facilitate gubernatorial pardons.

In 38 states and the District of Columbia, most ex-felons automatically gain the right to vote upon the completion of their sentence. In some states, ex-felons must wait for a certain period of time after the completion of their sentence before rights can be restored. In some states, an ex-felon must apply to have voting rights restored. According to The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website in a post titled, Felon Voting Right.

Here in New York, you can vote while you are on probation or once you have completed parole. Your voting rights are automatically restored, but you have to register in order to vote. You do not need any special documentation to register, according to the New York Civil Liberty Union (NYCLU).

2014 Midterm, Margin of Victory and Ineligible to Vote
2014 Midterm, Margin of Victory and Ineligible to Vote

So why is this important and why are we talking about it almost two weeks after Election Day. That would be because in four key Republican victories in 2014 Midterms, the Senate races in Alaska, Georgia, and North Carolina, plus the governor’s race in Florida, the number of votes that the Republican candidate won by was smaller than the number of citizens who couldn’t vote, as you can see by the chart by Sean McElwee of Demos.

That’s not to imply all persons with felonies will participating in practicing their right to vote, or that the Republican candidates wouldn’t have won had they voted. In a democracy voting is a right, not a privilege, but for almost 6 million Americans, that is not the case. We must point out the obvious, the Felony Disfranchisement Laws considerably stack the deck in Republicans favor since it perceived that most African-Americans vote Democrat. So by thinning the voting poll of those who may oppose you, taking their right to vote away from them makes it easy to get a Republican (or any party that doesn’t represent you) in office or lessens the opposition to them remaining in office.

On their website, the NYCLU explains: The vast majority of disfranchised individuals are no longer incarcerated, but are living in their communities on probation or parole; 2.1 million of the disfranchised population have fully completed their sentence. These disfranchised individuals are tax-paying citizens, involved with the issues in their community, but unable to vote to affect them.

The impact of felony disfranchisement falls disproportionately upon communities of color. Close to 1.5
million black men are disfranchised due to felony convictions. If incarceration rates hold steady, 3 in 10 of
the next generation of black men will be disfranchised at some point in their lives.

While the NCSL says, “most–though not all–recent state legislation seeks to expand felon voting rights and ease the process of restoration. Between 1996 and 2008, 28 states passed new laws on felon voting rights,” you can clearly see from the aforementioned chart, there is much work to be done.

On November 6, on their facebook page the NAACP wrote: This is why the NAACP is addressing the issues of the formerly incarcerated. Even with the NAACP addressing the issue and President Barack Obama’s claim about how aggressive the U.S. Justice Department has been in investigating obstacles to voting, I say we the people need to get more involved. Sure those four states were down south, and you may think it doesnt directly affect you, but you couldn’t be more wrong. If the government is continued to be controlled by those who dont represent your interest, things will not get better they will only get worst.

Our elders in the Civil Rights Movement fought and in some cases died so we would have the right to vote and we now for many that right has been taken away. If you do the crime you should pay the time. But once you’ve done that, that right taht was fought for should be restored. With the laws written to give our youth stiffer penaties while others get slaps on the risk, we must wake up. Once again BW can’t stress enough the importance of getting out to voting for those who can.

For more detailed information on state legislation dealing with the voting rights of convicted felons, visit NCSL’s 2011-current Election Legislation Database and select the subtopic “Voters-Felon Voting Rights.” For legislation from the period 2001-2010, visit NCSL’s 2001-2010 Election Legislation Database.

AJ Woodson

AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show. AJ is a Father, Brother, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Hip-Hop Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.

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1 comment

Danette Chavis November 17, 2014 at 6:49 PM

This is but one example of the law is being used exclude people of color. The laws which impose felonies are disparate in being issued so that the same “chemical substance” cocaine is treated differently depending on it’s use. Blacks who smoked or possessed it were issued stronger sentences then those who “sniffed it”. Blacks were therefore “targeted” based upon their use of the drug and that targeting was followed by “stronger sentencing” which not only excluded from voting, but housing, government assistance, and financial aid towards college. All of which has been targeted on a “race of people” and because it is backed by law – the racism can hardly be detected! Thousands have been excluded over “a say” in how the city and government is run while that same city and government enforces laws to “crush” them. And no one is paying any attention. It is a “silent genocide” of the males who before our very eyes are caught and captured like a “runaway slave”. During slavery it was a known fact that if you “ran away” from off the plantation you be caught and killed or savagely beaten into submission. What is the difference between police who savagely beat our men and shoot them because they ran?


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