Joseph “Jazz” Hayden, who served 10 years in prison for manslaughter, is leading a crusade to restore voting rights to felons. Only Maine and Vermont now allow full voting rights, although eight states since 1996 have made it easier for ex-cons and probationers to vote, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
Had Florida’s former felons been able to vote, Al Gore might have been elected president in 2000.
The Monitor says the issue reflects a culture clash. “It pits two social trends against each other – the tough-on-crime movement against the … expansion of civil rights,” says Christopher Uggen, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota. In a survey he commissioned last year, 80 percent favored giving all ex-cons the right to vote. Only 31 percent favored voting rights for those now serving time.
The Sentencing Project, a criminal-justice advocacy organization, says 3.9 million Americans – 1 in 50 adults – can’t vote, including 1.4 million black men–13 percent of the African-American male population.
Opponents argue that the people who will suffer if voting rights are given to felons are the law-abiding minorities in urban areas. “It’s their voting rights that will be diluted,” says Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank.