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Disenfranchised Felons: Citizens Without the Right to Vote in the US

In Voting on December 10, 2008 at 4:24 am

Kristine Breganio

In September 2008, the Sentencing Project, an agency that researches state policies regarding felony disenfranchisement, reported that as many as 5 million felons could not vote in the 2008 Presidential election.  Included in this number are current prisoners, probationers, parolees, and ex-prisoners.  In his report “Expanding the Vote: State Felony Disenfranchisement Reform 1997-2008, ” Ryan King of the Sentencing Project describes the years leading up to this historic election and the efforts of nineteen states to reform their disenfranchisement policies which resulted in the restoration of voting rights for 760,000 ex-felons.

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Historically, the federal government has used voter disenfranchisement to lock certain populations deemed undesirable out of the vote; groups such as women, criminals, African Americans, other minorities and the poor. Today convicted felons are the only remaining group that remains disenfranchised by law, according to Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, and author of the essay, “Mass Imprisonment and the Disappearing Voters.”

More recently, proponents of felony disenfranchisement see denying felons the right to vote as another form of punishment, and as a measure to prevent potential electoral fraud. Conservatives who support felony disenfranchisement want to prevent criminals from voting for representatives who would work in their favor. They see convicted felons as a demographic that could go to the democratic side. In a recent phone interview, King confirmed that the conservatives had a legitimate reason to be apprehensive of felons securing the right to vote; had they had the opportunity to do so in the 2008 election, they would have “overwhelmingly voted democratic,” resulting in an even wider margin of victory for Barack Obama. When it comes to electoral fraud, however, Mauer claims that proponents of felony disenfranchisement have nothing to fear, as 99 percent of felons have no charges of electoral fraud in their history. Furthermore, Mauer points out that electoral fraud is not a felony, but a misdemeanor, and those with such charges are not at risk of disenfranchisement. Read the rest of this entry »