"It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision," Holder is to tell the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights Criminal Justice Forum at Georgetown law school. "These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive. By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes." [...]Indeed.
"However well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be—the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated," Holder is to say. "At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past—a time of post-Civil War discrimination. And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear."
Laws in this matter vary widely from state to state. For instance, in two, Maine and Vermont, convicted felons may vote absentee while they are incarcerated. Most states have some form of automatic restoration after felons serve their sentence or that plus parole and probation time. But, depending on circumstances, 11 states, mostly in the West and South, can disenfranchise felons forever if they choose to do so.
Please read below the fold for more on this subject.
In Florida, felons must appeal for a clemency ruling from the governor to get back their franchise. Governors there can flat out ignore those pleas and often do. In Arizona, felons who have been twice convicted are disenfranchised for good. In Nevada, only those convicted of non-violent offenses are given their voting rights back. Virginia requires that felons convicted of non-violent offenses now have their voting rights automatically restored. That is thanks to last year's action by former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who, ironically, could find himself a beneficiary of that move if he is convicted of fraud and corruption charges. Violent offenders in Virginia, however, must wait five years before they can appeal to the governor's office to have their voting rights restored. And the process can take several more years when it succeeds at all.
This is an instance when a federal statute should be passed to take precedence.
Nationwide, according to The Sentencing Project, 5.85 million Americans are barred from voting because of felony convictions. Because of disparities about who gets arrested, tried and convicted, one in 13 African Americans is disenfranchised. This has an impact not only on the individuals convicted but also on political power.
In a 2012 article in the University of Richmond Law Review about felony disenfranchisement in Virginia, Dori Elizabeth Martin wrote:
Felony disenfranchisement profoundly impacts the political opportunity available to minority communities. Using a procedure called the “usual residence rule,” the Census Bureau counts prisoners as residents of the district in which they are incarcerated.If the goal of temporary incarceration is rehabilitation, as is supposedly the case, how can a person be fully rehabilitated if he or she cannot exercise one of the basic rights of an American citizen? Not to mention the whole "taxation without representation" bit—can you truly say you're represented if you had no opportunity to choose your representative?
The result is often artificially inflated population totals in rural, majority white communities at the expense of the (largely minority) communities the inmates ordinarily would call home.
Of course, government funding and political representation are both functions of population, as determined by the Census, so the inmates quite literally increase the value of prison communities without reaping any of the benefits, while leaving their families and neighbors underrepresented. Critics of this system have compared its practical effects to the “Three-Fifths” Compromise in the original United States Constitution, which gave slaveowning states more political influence by including slaves in the population tallies for determining congressional representation.