Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What if 5.3 Million More Americans Could Vote?

Article via The State of.

Worthy of discussion this has been an issue of late. There are activists who want to claim that people are being intentionally disenfranchised. Some of it is racial, some political especially if you know someone is losing an election and they might need some critical votes.

Anyway here's the story...
Despite this, our democracy still falls far short of its promise to be a government that truly represents the will of its citizens. Across the country there are 5.3 million Americans who are denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction in their past. Nearly 4 million of these people are not in prison; they live, work, pay taxes, and raise families in our communities, but remain disenfranchised for years, often for decades, and sometimes for life.

States vary widely on when they restore voting rights to former prisoners. Maine and Vermont do not disenfranchise people with convictions; even prisoners may vote there. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia disenfranchise people only while they are incarcerated; five states disenfranchise those who are incarcerated or on parole, but allow people on probation to vote; 20 states disenfranchise people in prison, on parole, and on probation; and 10 states permanently disenfranchise some categories of people who have completed their correctional supervision. Kentucky and Virginia are the last two remaining states that permanently disenfranchise all people with felony convictions, unless they apply for and receive individual, discretionary clemency from the governor.
Now for those of you who might believe there is a racial component here's one. I've only recently figured out that it seems issues involving people with convictions are issues amongst blacks. I watch too much cable access...
To fully appreciate how these laws compromise our democracy, it is important to understand their deep roots in the troubled history of American race relations. In the late 1800s these laws spread as part of a larger backlash against the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments -- the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution -- which ended slavery, granted equal citizenship to freed slaves, and prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

Over time, Southern Democrats sought to solidify their hold on the region by modifying voting laws in ways that would exclude African-Americans from the polls. Despite their newfound eligibility to vote, many freed slaves remained effectively disenfranchised.

Violence and intimidation were rampant. The legal barriers employed -- including literacy tests, residency requirements, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes -- while race-neutral on their face, were intentional barriers to African-American voting.

Felony disenfranchisement laws were a key part of this effort. Between 1865 and 1900, 18 states adopted laws restricting the voting rights of criminal offenders. By 1900, 38 states had some type of felon voting restriction, most of which disenfranchised convicted felons until they received a pardon. At the same time, states expanded the criminal codes to punish offenses that they believed targeted freedmen, including vagrancy, petty larceny, miscegenation, bigamy, and receiving stolen goods. Aggressive arrest and conviction efforts followed, motivated by the practice of "convict leasing," whereby former slaves were convicted of crimes and then leased out to work the very plantations and factories from which they had ostensibly been freed. Thus targeted criminalization and felony disenfranchisement combined to produce both practical re-enslavement and the legal loss of voting rights, usually for life, which effectively suppressed the political power of African Americans for decades.

The disproportionate impact of felony disenfranchisement laws on people of color continues to this day. Nationwide, 13 percent of African-American men have lost the right to vote, a rate that is seven times the national average. In eight states, more than 15 percent of African-Americans cannot vote due to a felony conviction, and four of those states -- Arizona, Iowa, Kentucky, and Nebraska -- disenfranchise more than 20 percent of their African-American voting-age population.
I'm big on personal responsibility and I believe if you commit a crime then you should suffer the consequences. Unfortunately that means you might lose some of your rights and privileges. For instance you lose your right to vote.

Of course I've noticed a trend at times we tend to throw people down a river especially since we know that they've committed a crime. In a recent blog that I discussed an article where it seemed despite the fact that an old man never drank a drop of alcohol and stopped driving, they didn't sympathize. He was DUI they believed and he could have killed someone apparently beyond that they didn't care about the fact that he stopped driving and that it was some years between his last DUI and the fact that he was sent to prison for a crime that he was convicted of in absentia.

I suppose the only point I'm making is that I understand the system is what it is. Still ex-cons have the right to rebuild their lives and start over. What happened in their past shouldn't continue to hang over their lives. I know that's easy to state, however, we've set up barriers thru employment (espeically if a company performs a background check) or even laws that might disenfranchise an ex-con that doesn't exactly encourage their re-introduction into society after prison.

Why not let these said individuals vote and if we choose to say criminals or convicts can't vote then do it on a case by case basis. If the criminal in question isn't a violent offender then they should be able to vote. I'm sure there are other ideas out there, but I suggest you read the whole thing.

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