One in 16 African Americans of Voting Age Disenfranchised: Report

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Photo by John Morton via Flickr

About 5.2 million Americans are unable to cast a vote—disenfranchised by virtue of a felony conviction—making up 2.3 percent of the nation’s voting-age population, according to a new report from The Sentencing Project.

This means that one out of 44 adults is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.

One in 16 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.7 times greater than that of non-African Americans, according to the report.

Furthermore, African-American disenfranchisement rates vary significantly by state. In seven states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming – more than one in seven African Americans is disenfranchised, twice the national average for African Americans.

According to the report, although data on Latinx ethnicity in correctional populations “are still unevenly reported,” it’s estimated that more than 560,000 Latinx Americans (over 2 percent of the voting-eligible population) are disenfranchised.

“In this presidential election year, the question of voting restrictions, and their disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities, should receive greater public attention,” said the authors of the report.

Three-quarters of the disenfranchised population are people who are living in their communities, having fully completed their sentences or remaining supervised while on probation or parole, said the report, titled “Locked Out 2020.”

In the past 25 years, half the states have changed their laws and practices to expand voting access to people with felony convictions. However, the rise in incarceration sends the figures in the other direction.

The total disenfranchised population rose from 3.3 million in 1996 to 4.7 million in 2000, to 5.4 million in 2004, to 5.9 million in 2010, and 6.1 million in 2016.

The question of voting for those convicted of a felony is a controversial one.

In November 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which allowed most people who have completed their sentences to vote, with the exception of people convicted of sex offenses and murder.

A legal battle then broke out over whether legal financial obligations (LFOs) must be paid before voting rights are restored.

Related story: Fees Keep 900,000 Florida  Felons From Voting

After former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to spend $16 million helping felons regain their voting rights in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state, its Republican attorney general urged the FBI and state authorities to investigate Bloomberg.

“When we break these figures down by race and ethnicity, it is clear that disparities in the criminal justice system are linked to disparities in political representation,” said the report authors.

This report was written by Christopher Uggen, Regents Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota; Ryan Larson, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota; Sarah Shannon, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Georgia; and Arleth Pulido-Nava, undergraduate student and McNair Scholar at the University of Minnesota.

To read the full report, click here.

Nancy Bileau is deputy editor of The Crime Report

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