Slide Presentation (PowerPoint)

Breaking Barriers to
the Ballot Box:
An Overview of Felony
Voting is the most fundamental
right in a democracy.
“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
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.
State felony disfranchisement policies.
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
 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.
The disfranchisement policies of several states
share a history of racial prejudice.
 The 15th Amendment passed in 1870 banned race-based
 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
 By the early 20th 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 15th Amendment, felony disfranchisement
laws remained legal and began to multiply.
 1850: 35% of states had felony disfranchisement
 2008: 95% of states have felony disfranchisement
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
Breaking down felony disfranchisement
 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.
Breaking down felony disfranchisement
 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.
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
Poor administration of existing
 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.
The United States has among the harshest
felony disfranchisement laws of any
 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
Few other democracies disfranchise their citizens after
completion of their sentences. In Europe, permitting people to
vote even while incarcerated is the norm.
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
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.
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
~Gwendolyn C. Chunn
American Correctional Association
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)
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.
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.
Strategies for change.
Public Education and Organizing
The right to vote is fundamental.
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.”
Thank you for joining the ACLU
in this fight.
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