Formerly Incarcerated and the Right to Vote

Californians Who Complete Parole Can Now Vote

Marc Mauer

In California, some criminal convictions have no impact on a person’s voting rights at all. Other kinds of convictions may temporarily take away the right to vote. The only time a person is not eligible to vote is if  he or she has a felony conviction and is still in state prison or on parole. A person with a felony conviction can vote if he on probation, has  completed  probation or completed  parole. Nationally, record number of Americans with criminal records cannot vote in what is expected to be a tight presidential election, a new study says. More than 5.85 million adults who’ve been convicted of a felony aren’t welcome at polling places, according to data through 2010 compiled by the Sentencing Project. That’s 600,000 more than in 2004, the last time the nonprofit group crunched the numbers. The vast majority of these disenfranchised adults have been released from prison. Sentencing Project researchers found more than 4 million Americans who cannot cast a ballot because they’re on probation or parole, or live in a state that withholds the right to vote from all ex-felons. “This is a fundamental question of democracy,” said the Sentencing Project’s executive director Marc Mauer. “These policies go back to the founding of this country. [The U.S.] was founded as a great experiment in democracy, but was very limited. Wealthy, white male landowners granted themselves the right to vote, but women, poor people, African Americans and people with felony convictions could not vote. “This is the last fundamental group that’s still excluded from democratic participation.” A majority of felons and ex-cons blocked from voting reside in a core of six Southern states — Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia — where more than 3 million people are banned from the rolls. Punishing people with felony records hits African Americans harder than other races: 7 percent of African Americans are disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the rest of the country, the study found. The numbers are more drastic in Florida and Virginia, political battlegrounds considered crucial in deciding the outcome of November’s election. In Virginia, 20 percent of blacks can’t vote. In Florida, that number is 23 percent. President Obama carried both states in 2008. (Kentucky, which is safely in Republican hands, is the only other state where 1 in 5 African Americans can’t vote.) Reliable information for Latinos wasn’t available, according to Christopher Uggen, the lead author of the report. Uggen said that Hispanics are disenfranchised at a rate higher than whites, but lower than blacks. “There’s no question this has a basis in race discrimination,” ACLU Voting Rights Program director Laughlin McDonald told The Huffington Post. “It’s part of the history of the racial minorities in the South. The Southern states adopted a whole variety of measures to take away the right to vote after Reconstruction.” Courtesy of Michael McLaughlin, Huffington Post.
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