Friday, October 7, 2016

Incarceration and Voting Disenfranchisement (part 6 million)

Why 10% of Florida Population Can't Vote In November:

One of every 40 American adults cannot vote in November’s election because of state laws that bar people with past felony convictions from casting ballots. Experts say racial disparities in sentencing have had a disproportionate effect on the voting rights of blacks and Hispanics.

A report by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization focused on criminal justice reform, estimates that 6.1 million Americans will not be allowed to vote next month because of these laws.

State laws that bar voting vary widely. Three swing states — Florida, Iowa and Virginia — have some of the harshest laws; they impose a lifetime voting ban on felons, although their voting rights can be restored on a case-by-case basis by a governor or a court. On the other end of the spectrum, Maine and Vermont place no restrictions on people with felony convictions, allowing them to vote while incarcerated.
“The message that comes across to them is: Yes, you have all the responsibilities of a citizen now, but you’re basically still a second-class citizen because we are not permitting you to be engaged in the political process," said Christopher Uggen, lead author of the report and a professor at the University of Minnesota.
If you delve into the Sentencing Project's report a little deeper (co-authored, incidentally, by a colleague of mine Sarah Shannon), you'll see how this troubling trend is simply getting worse. Even though we've been talking about criminal justice and sentencing reform for five years now (if not longer) these are the kinds of "invisible punishments" Michael Welch talked about 20 years ago...the kinds of things which impose a "civil death" upon a population that has already "done the crime, done the time."

And the fact that the states in question with the highest disenfranchisement rates, and with the most onerous conditions for voting reinstatement, also have the highest minority and poor populations is beyond mere correlation. Simply put, voting disenfranchisement is the Poll Tax's ugly stepchild.
African American disenfranchisement rates in Kentucky,Tennessee, and Virginia now exceed 20 percent of the adult voting age population. Whereas only 9 states disenfranchised at least 5 percent of their African American adult citizens in 1980, 23 states do so today.
It's a grim reminder that despite all the punishment reform happy talk, more than 6 million of our fellow citizens will be denied participation in the election coming up in November. And while it's trendy and hip to claim political alienation, or "disgust with both parties," or "there ain't a dime's worth of difference between any of them," voter apathy is still fundamentally a choice.

Imagine wanting to participate in the electoral process and simply NOT being allowed to. Your ironic "disgruntlement" might look rather silly in comparison.

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