Libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) he is introducing a bill that would restore voting rights to nonviolent ex-felons in federal elections, reports Emily Bazelon of Slate. The bill is not about to become law any time soon, but Paul gets credit for standing on principle even though he and his party would hardly benefit. If Congress re-enfranchised ex-cons across the land, it would help Democrats. It would probably be enough to swing a close Senate race in some states or to push Florida into the D column in a presidential election. In 2010, says the Sentencing Project, 5.85 million people couldn't vote because they were either in prison or had a felony record (which in 12 states also disqualifies you at the polls).
Florida is 1 of 3 states in which more than 1 in 5 black adults are disenfranchised. The other two are Virginia—another swing state—and Paul's own Kentucky. If these ex-cons voted, they would break for Democrats. “African-American voters are wildly overrepresented in criminal justice populations. African-American voters also historically favor Democratic candidates,” says sociologist Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota. Uggen and Jeff Manza estimated turnout for disenfranchised ex-cons at 35 percent for presidential elections and 24 percent for the Senate during off-year contests.