Fwd: [BRC-NEWS] Lift the Ban Against Felons Voting

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Sat Nov 18 06:24:24 MST 2000

>Date: Sat, 18 Nov 2000 01:57:17 -0500
>From: Art McGee <amcgee at igc.org>
>Reply-To: ehutchi344 at aol.com, ehutchinson at natalliance.org
>Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Lift the Ban Against Felons Voting
>Sender: worker-brc-news at lists.tao.ca
>To: brc-news at lists.tao.ca
>Los Angeles Times
>September 27, 2000
>Lift the Ban Against Felons Being Able to Vote
>By Earl Ofari Hutchinson <ehutchi344 at aol.com>
>A year ago the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.,
>prison reform group, issued a report that found that seven
>states permanently barred felons who have been released from
>custody from voting. With the gaping racial disparities in
>prison sentencing, the vote ban has fallen heaviest on black
>men. One out of four black males were disenfranchised by
>these laws. Civil libertarians screamed foul and called it
>a return to Jim Crow segregation days when Southern states
>routinely used poll taxes, literacy laws, political gerry-
>mandering, physical harassment, threats and intimidation
>to bar blacks from the polls.
>If they were appalled last year at the number of states that
>permanently ban these felons from voting, the news from the
>latest Sentencing Project is even worse: Two more states have
>approved permanent voting bans. And the racial disparity is
>even greater. Black men now account for one out of three
>released felons barred from the polls. Even worse, the
>number of blacks disenfranchised by these bans probably
>will soar higher.
>More than 1 million blacks are now behind bars. The draconian
>drug sentencing laws, "three strikes" laws, racial profiling
>and the disparities in prison sentencing virtually ensure
>that more blacks will be arrested, convicted and sentenced
>more harshly than whites.
>The Sentencing Project estimates that in the next few years
>40% of black men will permanently be barred from the polls
>in the states with this ban. This terrible, racially tinged
>policy wreaks much havoc on African Americans. It drastically
>cuts down the number of black elected officials, increases
>cynicism, if not outright loathing, by many young blacks for
>the criminal justice system and deprives black communities
>of vital funds and resources for badly needed services that
>could have come from their increased political strength.
>The rationale for keeping and putting more bans on the books
>in more states is that they make it rougher on lawbreakers.
>This is nonsense. Many of the men who are stripped of their
>right to vote are not convicted murderers, rapists or robbers.
>They are not denied the vote because of a court-imposed sentence,
>because no states require that a judge formally bar an offender
>from voting as part of a criminal sentence because of the
>seriousness of the crime. In fact, many offenders don't even
>serve a day in prison. They have been convicted of felonies
>such as auto theft or drug possession. They are more likely
>to receive a fine or probation.
>Most of these offenders were young men when they committed
>their crimes. The chances are good that they didn't become
>career criminals, but hold steady jobs, raise families and
>are responsible members of their communities. Yet the states
>that stamp them with the legal and social stigma of being a
>felon deprive them of their basic constitutional right to
>vote and relegate them to second-class citizenship in
>This cruelly mocks the notion of rehabilitation and gives lie
>to the fondly repeated line that when criminals pay their debt
>to society, they deserve and will get a second chance.
>While surveys show that a majority of Americans think that
>the felon voting ban is bad policy, only a handful of civil
>liberties groups and the NAACP in Virginia and Florida have
>challenged these restrictive laws in court. The only recourse
>that former lawbreakers have now in the states that permanently
>bar them from voting is to seek a pardon from the governor. This
>is a dead end for most. Governors read the fierce public mood on
>crime and know that many Americans see felons as pariahs who
>deserve any treatment they get. So few felons even bother to
>request a pardon.
>Civil liberties groups have urged state legislatures to rescind
>the laws or at least resist the temptation to place new voting
>restrictions on the books. The only state to heed their call
>and do the right thing is Delaware. In June, lawmakers there
>restored voting rights to some former criminals.
>The exclusion of thousands of blacks from the voting rolls
>30 years after the civil rights movement waged a titanic
>battle to abolish Jim Crow voting bans is worse than a
>travesty of justice. It's a horrid stain on American
>democracy. It's a stain that state officials should
>immediately wipe away.
>Earl Ofari Hutchinson Is the Author of "The Disappearance
>of Black Leadership" (Middle Passage Press, 2000).
>Copyright (c) 2000 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved.
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