Another Chilling Statistic from the "Land of the Free"

Jay Moore research at
Sun Nov 5 17:25:37 MST 2000

13 Percent of Black Men in America Have No Vote


Story Filed: Friday, November 03, 2000 4:12 PM EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With efforts to get out the vote in full swing ahead
of Tuesday's election, activists hoping to rally minority communities face a
legal roadblock -- 13 percent of black men have lost the right to vote
because of incarceration or past felony convictions.

In Alabama and Florida, one study found, the total is as high as one in

``About 1.8 million men are disenfranchised within the African-American
community,'' said Keenan Keller, minority counsel for the House Judiciary
Committee, where a bill to extend voting rights to ex-offenders has
languished for more than a year.

``In certain swing states, the number of folks who are disenfranchised could
actually have a direct impact on the election,'' he said, adding that
because of aggressive policing linked to the war on drugs the impact on
future elections could be great.

``You have the situation where juveniles can lose the right to vote before
they even get it,'' he said.

The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., organization that promotes
alternative sentencing programs, reports that in 47 states and the District
of Columbia, all convicted adults in prison are denied voting rights while
they are incarcerated. Thirty two states also deny paroled felons the right
to vote, 29 deny felons on probation the vote, and in 13 states ex-offenders
lose their voting rights for life.

Only Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts allow prisoners convicted of felonies
to vote. But that right is on the ballot in Massachusetts on Tuesday when
voters will be asked to decide whether to disenfranchise prisoners in that


Laws denying criminals the right to vote have been on the books in the
United States for 200 years. They are based on the belief that those who
break the law should suffer ``civil death'' and forfeit some rights.

Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Equal
Opportunity, has testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the
issue. He said there are good reasons why the criminal disenfranchisement
law should be maintained.

``The basic point is that somebody who is not willing to follow the law
should not have a role in making the laws for everyone else. That's what
you're doing when you vote,'' Clegg said in a telephone interview.

``There has to be some sort of minimum threshold of trustworthiness or
loyalty an individual must have before they have a role in running the

But those advocating a change say the old ``civil death'' laws could not
have envisioned a society in which millions of people -- convicted of crimes
ranging from murder to non-violent theft -- lose their right to vote. They
say once a criminal has served their sentence they should be free to
participate in the political process.

Like the dark days of segregation, when laws were manufactured to keep
blacks out of the voting booth, some today are reviewing the rules governing
voting rights for felons to see whether they disproportionately affect the
African-American community and muzzle its political voice.

In all, 4.2 million Americans -- either current prison inmates or
ex-offenders -- are not allowed to vote. Of those, more than one third are
black, according to The Sentencing Project. That amounts to 13 percent of
all black men.

``We estimate in our report that for black males born today, in the most
restrictive states, 30 to 40 percent of them will lose their voting rights
at some point in their life,'' said Mark Mauer, the group's assistant

In 1998, The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch looked at the extent
of criminal disenfranchisement and found that in Alabama and Florida, 31
percent of all black men were permanently disenfranchised.

In five other states -- Iowa, Mississippi, New Mexico, Virginia and
Wyoming -- one in four black men were permanently disenfranchised, and in
Texas one in five black men had lost the right to vote.

In September, The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School
of Law filed suit in federal court in Florida challenging the
constitutionality of the state's permanent disenfranchisement of ex-felons.

Nancy Northup, director of The Brennan Center's Democracy Program and lead
attorney in the case, said the state's law is designed to discriminate
against African Americans.

``It violates the voting rights act because it continues to discriminate
against African American voters,'' she said.

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