6.1 million Americans cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement. Ultimately, these men and women across the United States have little to no political recourse for challenging the laws that took away their vote.
Rates of felon disenfranchisement vary dramatically between states. In Vermont and Maine, felons never lose their voting rights, while in others, felons regain their right to vote when the state deems they have paid their debt to society – either after they are released or after parole and/or probation. Still other states, however, do not restore voting rights to felons unless they apply for and receive a Governor’s action or court action allowing them to vote.
In addition, this disenfranchisement disproportionately affects African Americans. According to the Sentencing Project “1 of every 13 African Americans has lost their voting rights due to felony disenfranchisement laws, vs. 1 in every 56 non-black voters.”
Some states, however, have begun to look into these laws. A judge recently deemed this practice unconstitutional in Florida. Currently in Florida, convicted felons cannot vote unless they are granted restoration through a governor’s or court order. The judge stated “[Elected], partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards… Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration. … The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not.”
Similarly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that he “intends to restore voting rights to felons on parole, a move that could open the ballot box to more than 35,000 people.”
Despite these advancements, in many states, these disenfranchised Americans are people who have served their debt to society and yet continue to be punished well beyond their time served in prisons, jails, probation, and parole.
Ultimately, these men and women across the United States have little to no political recourse for challenging or changing the laws that took away their vote. While some of these laws address actions that will always be felonies, keep in mind that possessing marijuana can still accrue a felony in many states despite support (61% of Americans) for legalization.