Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 01:58:31 -0800 (PST)
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Losing the Vote
[Moderator: full report is at http://www.hrw.org/reports98/vote/]
Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in
the United States
http://www.sentencingproject.org/, 8 March 1999
3.9 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of a felony
1.4 million are African American males
More than 1 million of them have completed their sentences
13 percent of black men across the nation are disenfranchised
In FLORIDA over 30 percent of black men cannot vote
Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Law in the United
States provides a comprehensive analysis of the impact of state laws that
disqualify current and former felony offenders from voting. The report
includes the following statistical highlights:
State Disenfranchisement Laws
46 states and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while
serving a felony sentence. Four states-Maine, Massachusetts, Utah, and
Vermont-permit inmates to vote.
32 states prohibit felons from voting while they are on parole and 29 of
these states exclude felony probationers also.
10 states disenfranchise all ex-offenders who have completed their
criminal sentence. Four others disenfranchise some ex-offenders. In
addition, Texas disenfranchises ex-offenders for two years after they have
completed their sentences.
Impact of Felony Voting Disenfranchisement
An estimated 3.9 million Americans, or one in fifty adults, have currently
or permanently lost their voting rights as a result of a felony
1.4 million persons disenfranchised are ex-offenders who have completed
1.4 million African American men, or 13% of black men, are
disenfranchised, a rate seven times the national average.
In seven states that deny the vote to ex-offenders, one in four black men
is permanently disenfranchised.
Given current rates of incarceration, three in ten of the next generation
of black men can expect to be disenfranchised at some point in their
lifetime. In states that disenfranchise ex-offenders, as many as 40% of
the black men may permanently lose their right to vote.
The scale of felony voting disenfranchisement in the U.S. is far greater
than in any other nation and has serious implications for democratic
processes and racial inclusion. The impact of these laws has been
exacerbated by a quarter century of "tough on crime" criminal justice
policies that have led to more people going to prison for longer periods
of time. Policymakers at the state and federal level should reconsider
these policies in light of legitimate correctional objectives and the
democratic interests served by recognizing the right to vote of all
sectors of the population.
The full report, "Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement
Laws in the United States," is available on-line at http://www.hrw.org or
CNN - Florida ponders ex-cons' voting status - March 4, 1999
MIAMI (CNN) -- The Florida Legislature's black caucus announced Thursday
that one of its priorities in the current 60-day legislative session is to
make it easier for convicted felons to re-establish their voting rights.
The lawmakers cited statistics showing one in three black men can't vote
in their state because they have been convicted of crimes. Florida is one
of 14 states that makes it difficult for felons to vote.
In a number of states around the country, legislators and civil rights
groups are trying to change the rules that make it difficult for felons to
restore their voting rights.
A Florida legislative committee has been hearing arguments that most
felons who have served their time should have their voting rights restored
automatically one year after they have completed their sentence.
'I was robbed'
Fifteen years ago, Miami truck driver Mark Jenkins stole an engine part,
violated his probation and served a few months in jail. He completed his
sentence in 1987.
As a convicted felon, he was stripped of his voting rights. And now, 11
years later -- because he owes more than $500 in court costs, which he
says he cannot afford -- he still is not allowed to vote.
"I felt like, how you put it, like I was robbed," Jenkins said. "Even
though I did the damage. But I did my time, I paid my debt to society. How
much more do I have to pay?"
Florida requires a clemency hearing before an ex-con's voting rights can
"For most people, that means that it is virtually impossible for them to
get their civil rights restored," said Randall Berg of the Florida Justice
According to a study by The Sentencing Project in Washington, nearly 4
million Americans cannot vote because of felony convictions. More than 1
million of them have completed their sentences.
African-Americans most affected
The biggest concern fueled by the study is the disproportionate effect on
African-Americans. The study shows about 13 percent of black men across
the nation are disenfranchised. In Florida and Alabama, more than 30
percent of black men cannot vote, because they were convicted of felonies.
Florida State Sen. Kendrick Meek is co-sponsoring legislation to restore
voter rights automatically.
"You're going to have an entire segment of a population in the state of
Florida that's not going to have an opportunity to vote," Meek said.
The group that commissioned the study said that fact can color the outcome
of an election.
"In an otherwise close race for city council, county commissioner, state
legislator, the number of disenfranchised citizens who cannot vote may
actually tilt the vote in some very serious ways," said Marc Mauer of The
Many conservatives are reluctant to change voting rules that are tough on
criminals. But reformers say this has gone from a criminal justice issue
to one of voting rights, particularly for minorities.
The bill making its way through several committees in the Florida
legislature would not restore other civil rights for ex-cons, such as the
right to hold political office. It would let the Cabinet block restoration
of voting rights after the most serious felonies.
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