Legislatures in 16 states have loosened voting restrictions on felons in the last decade, says the New York Times, quoting a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project. Because of their high incarceration rate, blacks are most affected by voting bans on felons; many bar current inmates and parolees from voting until they have fulfilled their sentences, and some barring felons for life. In recent years, Iowa, Nebraska, and New Mexico have repealed their lifetime bans on felon voting, and several other states made it easier for freed prisoners or those on probation to vote. The recent changes have restored voting rights to more than 600,000 people. Because the prison population has continued rising, a record number of 5.3 million Americans are denied the vote because of criminal records.
Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a leader of the movement to smooth the re-entry of prisoners to society said, “I think people are realizing that the country had gone too far in marginalizing a large group of people who have been convicted of felonies.” Some conservatives remain opposed to any wholesale loosening of voting restrictions. “If you're not willing to follow the law, then you shouldn't claim the right to make the law for someone else,” said Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative advocacy group. He said felons should be given the vote only case by case, when they have proved to be constructive members of society.