How the Right Disenfranchises Minorities

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Ben Cohen
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By Ben Cohen

This is an interesting piece by Amy Goodman on the disproportional disenfranchisement of ethnic minorities in the American political system. It's not a subject touched upon by the mainstream media (surprise, surprise), but it has significant impact on voting trends:

By Amy Goodman

As I raced into our TV studio for our Super Tuesday morning-after show,
I was excited. Across the country, initial reports indicated there was
unprecedented voter participation, at least in the Democratic
primaries, several times higher than in previous elections. For years I
have covered countries like Haiti, where people risk death to vote,
while the U.S. has one of the lowest participation rates in the
industrialized world. Could it be this year would be different?

Then I bumped into a friend and asked if he had voted. “I can’t
vote,” he said, “because I did time in prison.” I asked him if he would
have voted. “Sure I would have. Because then I’m not just talking junk,
I’m doing something about it.”

Felony disenfranchisement is the practice by state governments of
barring people convicted of a felony from voting, even after they have
served their time. In Virginia and Kentucky, people convicted of any
felony can never vote again (this would include “Scooter” Libby, even
though he never went to jail, unless he is pardoned). Eight other
states have permanent felony disenfranchisement laws, with some
conditions that allow people to rejoin the voter rolls: Alabama,
Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Disenfranchisement—people being denied their right to vote—takes
many forms, and has a major impact on electoral politics. In Ohio in
2004, stories abounded of inoperative voting machines, too few ballots
or too few voting machines. Then there was Florida in 2000. Many
continue to believe that the election was thrown to George W. Bush by
Ralph Nader, who got about 97,000 votes in Florida. Ten times that
number of Floridians are prevented from voting at all. Why? Currently,
more than 1.1 million Floridians have been convicted of a felony and
thus aren’t allowed to vote. We can’t know for sure how they would have
voted, but as scholar, lawyer and activist Angela Davis said recently
in a speech honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Mobile, Ala., “If we
had not had the felony disenfranchisement that we have, there would be
no way that George Bush would be in the White House.”

Since felony disenfranchisement disproportionately affects
African-American and Latino men in the U.S., and since these groups
overwhelmingly vote Democratic, the laws bolster the position of the
Republican Party. The statistics are shocking. Ryan King, policy
analyst with The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., summarized the
latest:

About 5.3 million U.S. citizens are ineligible to vote due to
felony disenfranchisement; 2 million of them are African-American. Of
these, 1.4 million are African-American men, which translates into an
incredible 13 percent of that population, a rate seven times higher
than in the overall population. Forty-eight states have some version of
felony disenfranchisement on the books. All bar voting from prison,
then go on to bar participation while on parole or probation. Two
states, Maine and Vermont, allow prisoners to vote from behind the
walls, as does Canada and a number of other countries.

Read more.