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An Overview of Felony Disfranchisement Breaking Barriers to the Ballot Box:

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1 An Overview of Felony Disfranchisement Breaking Barriers to the Ballot Box:

2 “ The right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.” - Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 556 (1964) US.. Supreme Court Ruling Voting is the most fundamental right in a democracy.

3 Felony disfranchisement strips millions of that right. Laws in 48 out of 50 states prevent some or all people with felony convictions from voting. 5.3 million people in the U.S. cannot vote because of felony convictions. As the incarceration rate rises, so does the disfranchised population.

4 State felony disfranchisement policies.

5 Felony disfranchisement laws range widely in scope and severity. Of the 50 states: 2 states permanently ban all people with felony convictions from voting. 8 states permanently ban people with certain felony convictions from voting. 20 states ban all people with felony convictions from voting until they have completed their sentences (including prison, parole and probation). 5 states ban all people with felony conviction from voting while in prison or on parole. 13 states ban people with any felony convictions from voting while incarcerated. Maine and Vermont allow everyone to vote.

6 The disfranchisement policies of several states share a history of racial prejudice. The 15 th Amendment passed in 1870 banned race-based disfranchisement. Southern states began using criminal disfranchisement and other policies to rollback this expansion of the franchise. Though purportedly race-neutral, many disfranchisement laws were tailored to principally affect African-Americans. By the early 20 th century, former Confederate states prohibited nearly all their black citizens from voting. In other states, 10 times as many blacks voters as white voters were barred. Although Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to reinforce the 15 th Amendment, felony disfranchisement laws remained legal and began to multiply. 1850: 35% of states had felony disfranchisement laws. 2008: 95% of states have felony disfranchisement laws.

7 Felony disfranchisement continues to overwhelmingly impact minorities. Felony disfranchisement laws prevent 1.4 million or 13% of all black men in the U.S. from voting. In 5 states that disfranchise people with felony convictions, 1 in 4 black men are permanently disfranchised. In New York, over 16 times as many Latino voters are disfranchised as white voters.

8 Breaking down felony disfranchisement myths. MYTH: Felony disfranchisement laws disproportionately impact people of color because they commit more crimes. FACT: Several studies have shown that law enforcement agencies engage in the practices of selective enforcement and racial profiling. People of color are policed, arrested, charged, prosecuted and convicted at considerably higher rates than the population at large, leading to the disparity in disfranchisement rates.

9 Breaking down felony disfranchisement myths. MYTH: Restoring the vote is a partisan attempt to increase the power of the Democratic party. FACT: Felony disfranchisement is a non-partisan issue about everyone’s right to vote that attracts support from Republicans and Democrats.  As Governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed a bill into law eliminating the two-year waiting period before people who had completed their sentences could vote.  Florida’s permanent disfranchisement policy was modified in 2007 by Republican Governor Charlie Crist.

10 Felony disfranchisement laws are excessively punitive. Many felony convictions are for relatively minor, nonviolent drug offenses. Denying the vote to people with such convictions – sometimes permanently – is unfair.

11 Poor administration of existing laws. Those in charge of administering felony disfranchisement policies are often unaware of them and dispense incorrect information. In most states, individuals with felony convictions do regain the right to vote at some point, but confusion about state law and eligibility hinders them from registering to vote, disfranchising eligible voters.

12 The United States has among the harshest felony disfranchisement laws of any democracy. Democracies from Canada to Israel to South Africa allow everyone, prisoners included, to vote. In 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called for the U.S. to restore the vote to people upon release from prison.

13 Few other democracies disfranchise their citizens after completion of their sentences. In Europe, permitting people to vote even while incarcerated is the norm.

14 It is only fair to allow people leaving prison to vote. 74% of those affected by felony disfranchisement laws are currently living in their communities, working, supporting families, and paying taxes. Yet they remain second-class citizens who do not have a voice in their communities.

15 Restoring the vote enhances public safety. People with felony convictions who vote are: More likely to give to charity, attend school board meetings, volunteer and be engaged with the community. Over 50% less likely to be re-arrested than those who do not vote.

16 Restoring the vote enhances public safety. “We’ve got record numbers of people who’ll be coming home this year: 600,000 people-- that’s over half a million people! And when we’ve got those kinds of numbers, we need to fully engage those people in being good citizens.” ~Gwendolyn C. Chunn President American Correctional Association

17 Several prominent organizations and individuals have expressed support for felon enfranchisement policy reform. American Correctional Association American Probation and Parole Association United States Conference of Catholic Bishops The National Black Police Association and the National Latino Officers Association of America American Bar Association Two National Commissions on Federal Election Reform Presidents George W. Bush, Carter, Clinton and Ford Politicians from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) to Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL) to Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-IL)

18 The public overwhelmingly supports restoring the vote—even for people still serving their sentences. 80% believe people who have completed their sentences should have the right to vote. Over 60% believe that people on probation or parole should have the right to vote.

19 Momentum for reform. In the last decade, reforms in 17 states have restored the vote to over 700,000 people. In 1997, there were ten states that disfranchised people with felony convictions for life. Today there are only two.

20 Strategies for change. Public Education and Organizing LitigationLegislation

21 For the 5.3 million Americans who still cannot vote, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it, “A right delayed is a right denied.” The right to vote is fundamental.

22 Thank you for joining the ACLU in this fight. For more information, please visit:


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