Disenfranchisement News: 1 in 5 African Americans disenfranchised in Kentucky

(A Reprint from the Sentencing Project) 

Kentucky Disenfranchisement Laws Prevent 1 in 5 African-Americans from Voting


As part of Voting Rights Watch 2012, a blog series that explores in-depth voter suppression efforts nationwide for the magazine The Nation, Meta Mendel-Reyes writes about the effects of felony disenfranchisement laws in the state of Kentucky. While nationwide one in thirteen African Americans is barred from voting, in Kentucky, a shocking one in five are prevented from participating in elections. Disenfranchisement laws in Kentucky are such that individuals with a felony conviction must petition the governor in order to have their rights restored.

Mendel-Reyes, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a statewide, grassroots social justice organization that seeks to restore voting rights for individuals with past convictions, describes the organization’s efforts. The organization supported House Bill 70, which would grant automatic restoration of voting rights upon completion of probation, parole, or sentence. Although the bill passed in the House, it stalled in the State Senate; the bill will be reintroduced in 2013.


Oregon Voters and Felony Convictions

In a blog post for The Examiner, Jennifer Alexander explains that many potential voters in Oregon are not aware that they still retain a right to vote despite a felony conviction. Unlike some states, Oregon automatically reinstates an individual’s voting rights upon release from incarceration. In this year’s election, Oregonians will be voting on Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 2012. The measure would allow adults 21 and over to purchase marijuana from state-licensed stores or to grow their own for personal use. Ms. Alexander stresses the importance of ensuring that those who have a felony record are aware that they are not barred from voting this year – and have a substantial voice in the referendum.


Despite 2003 Reform, Reclaiming Right to Vote in Wyoming Difficult

In the Casper Star-Tribune, Megan Cassidy reports that despite a 2003 reform that enabled certain individuals with previous felony convictions to have their voting rights restored, only 58 people have taken advantage of the act in the past nine years. The disenfranchisement rate in Wyoming remains at six percent. Under the reform, an applicant must have only been convicted of one nonviolent felony and must additionally wait five years from the completion of his or her sentence before applying to regain their voting rights. Many, however, are not aware of the change and thus remain disenfranchised.


The Effects of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws

In the Epoch Times, staff writer Gary Feuerberg discusses the effects of felony disenfranchisement laws. Citing a report from The Sentencing Project by Christopher Uggen and Sarah Shannon, he reports that in the 2010 election, 5.85 million Americans were denied the right to vote due to a current or past felony conviction. Within that number, however, those incarcerated constitute about one-fourth of the total disenfranchised; the other three-fourths, constituting about  4.4 million people, are people on parole, felony probation, and persons who have completed their sentences. The effects of felony disenfranchisement laws are profound regardless; about 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population is presently disenfranchised and will not be eligible to vote in the November election.


Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial


Coinciding with the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, this editorial in the Philidelphia Inquirer discusses the fact that millions of Americans are denied the fundamental right to vote. Citing a statistic that 1 of every 13 voting-age African Americans are not able to vote as a result of such laws, the editorial points out that the voting bans weigh unfairly on the nation’s minority communities. The editorial concludes that voting is a “basic right of citizenship,” and that there is “no civic rationale for denying [those who have completed their time] their political voice.”


Federal Felony Disenfranchisement Reform Stalled


In an article for The Chattanoogan, attorney Lee Davis provides a look into the broad spectrum of disenfranchisement laws across states. He gives the example of Maine and Florida: while an individual with a felony conviction in Maine may continue to vote while incarcerated, an individual convicted of the same felony in Florida may never vote again. He points to an effort  in Congress to create a national standard through the Voter Empowerment Act, which proposed sweeping changes in how federal elections are conducted and would let all former offenders who have been released from prison, including those who are may still be on probation or parole, to register and vote in federal elections. He laments, however, that the measure went nowhere as “politicians eager to seem tough on crime” defeated it, and thus thousands will continue to be deprived of the right to vote.