With the 2016 U.S. election season in full-swing, most of the media’s attention has been paid to presidential candidates and the political dynamics of whichever primary state is voting next.
The underbelly of the American electorate has not garnered much publicity, however. The fact that 5.85 million U.S. citizens currently have their voting rights revoked due to a previous felony conviction is rarely mentioned by politicos in Washington.
While 800,000 people have had their civic rights restored over the past 20 years due to the liberalization of laws is about half the states, three continue to ban anyone convicted of a felony from ever voting again without a governor’s pardon.
Florida, Kentucky and Iowa top the list of most penalizing states for ex-convicts. In the Sunshine State alone, 2 million residents are currently black-listed from voting.
African-Americans have been hit the hardest by these restrictions, as more than 20 percent of the non-imprisoned black population in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia are banned from exercising their civic duty.
Despite the embarrassing statistics, politicians, interest groups and individual citizens alike are starting to propose reforms on the state and federal level to allow more ex-felons to participate in the civic aspects of society.
Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, was convicted of possessing an assault weapon and illegal drugs in the early 2000s. After released from prison in 2004, Meade earned a law degree but under state law was not allowed to practice.
Now, Meade and his group are organizing a ballot initiative to amend the Florida state constitution which would allow non-violent felons’ voting privileges to be automatically restored following their release from prison.
Along with grass-roots activists like Meade, groups ranging from the American Probation and Parole Association to the ACLU and the Koch brothers all support reforms to allow more ex-convicts to vote.
In addition, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Harry Reid (D-NV) are co-sponsoring a bill in Congress which would let non-violent felons vote in federal elections.
In 2015, progressive reforms were instituted in Kentucky, Wyoming and California, restoring voting rights to ex-convicts, although the incoming governor of the Bluegrass State revoked his predecessor’s executive order to let all non-violent felons vote again.
In California, a court ruling against the state re-enfranchised more than 60,000 recently released convicted felons.
Currently, only Maine and Vermont allow convicted felons to vote from jail.
[RT News] [Reuters] [sentencingproject.org] [Photo courtesy wymt.com]