examines a hidden scandal of American "democracy"--the disenfranchisement of millions of people for no other reason that that they were convicted of a crime.
May 28, 2009
IN NOVEMBER, American voters made history by electing the first African American president, a symbol of the promises long denied to those who fought in the civil rights' movement of the 1960s.
But the dreams of that struggle are far from fulfilled, and one need look no further than the ballot box to see why--an estimated 5.3 million Americans are legally barred from voting for no other reason than that they have been convicted of a felony. Nearly 4 million of these disenfranchised--around three of every four--are out of prison, but are still denied the right to vote, often for decades and sometimes for life.
Maine and Vermont are the only states where all prisoners and former prisoners can vote. Virginia and Kentucky are at the other end of the spectrum, permanently disenfranchising anyone with a felony conviction unless they receive a pardon from the governor. In eight other states--Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming--prisoners convicted of certain crimes (usually murder and sex crimes) are barred for life. Other states restore voting rights upon release from prison, probation and parole, while others impose waiting periods before former prisoners can vote.
In all, 35 states ban the right to vote--in some form or another--to former prisoners even after they are out from behind bars.