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Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 01:58:31 -0800 (PST)
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Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Losing the Vote
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[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

Some highlights

  • 3.9 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction
  • 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 conviction.

1.4 million persons disenfranchised are ex-offenders who have completed their sentences.

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.

Policy Implications

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 http://www.sentencingproject.org

[Moderator: http://cnn.com/US/9903/04/felons.voting/index.html]
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 be restored.

"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 Institute.

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 Sentencing Project.

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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