Happy Friday. Today, we’re talking about an issue that’s been close to our hearts for a long time: felony disenfranchisement.
We’ve seen a lot about felony disenfranchisement in the news lately, especially given the recent attention on the Freedom to Vote Act, which failed to pass the Senate earlier this week. The Freedom to Vote Act would’ve *automatically* restored the right to vote to formerly incarcerated individuals - something that’s currently only the case in a handful of states.
Remind Me What’s Going On Here...
According to the ACLU, state felony disenfranchisement laws keep about 6 million Americans with felony (and in several states misdemeanor) convictions from voting. To make matters worse, confusion about and misapplication of these laws effectively disenfranchise countless other Americans.
I Bet That’s Not All…
Oh, so you’ve been paying attention. You’re right: that’s not all. Felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact voters of color. According to The Sentencing Project, one in every 16 Black Americans has lost their right to vote due to a felony disenfranchisement.
One in sixteen.
That’s compared to about one in every 59 non-Black Americans.
Rates of felony disenfranchisement vary by state, but in seven, more than one in seven Black Americans is disenfranchised. In Tennessee and Wyoming, more than 20% of the adult voting age population of Black Americans are disenfranchised.
That Seems Like A Pretty Big Problem
Sure is! But, luckily, a lot more is being done to address it now. Since 2016, 11 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation expanding the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated. As it stands today, per the National Conference on State Legislatures:
In three states, felons never lose their right to vote.
In 16 states, felons lose their right to vote while incarcerated and for a period of time after (usually while on parole). After their time is served, former felons in these states automatically regain their right to vote.
In 11 states, felons lose their right to vote indefinitely for at least some crimes, and can regain it only with a governor’s pardon.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As we said, a bill that would’ve directly addressed this crisis, the Freedom to Vote Act, failed in the Senate this week on a party line vote. While we wait and see if Senate rules are changed to accommodate future reforms at the federal level, we can take a look at what state-level reforms are doing.
As we mentioned at the top, there are millions of Americans who are legally barred from voting, but there are millions more who are kept from voting through other means -- de facto barred from voting.
According to recent research by the Marshall Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit centered on criminal justice issues, as of 2020, of the millions of formerly incarcerated people who had recovered their right to vote, no more than one in four had registered to vote. Compare that to the general population, where three in four eligible voters are registered to vote.
There are a number of incredible groups doing outreach work to encourage the formerly incarcerated to take back their power and their vote: the Campaign Legal Center provides a voter registration guide, as well as legal aid, to the formerly incarcerated; the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition advocates for the rights of the formerly incarcerated in Florida; and More Than A Vote aims to energize, educate, and protect Black voters, including a comprehensive anti-voter suppression platform.
Thanks for reading, y’all!