Publication Announcement: More Than 5 Million Americans Are Denied their Right to Vote; New Book Tells Their Stories and the Impact on Democracy in America

Release Date: 
April 27, 2006

New York, NY — This Friday, April 28, 2006 marks the publication of a groundbreaking and timely new book, CONNED: How Millions Went to Prison and Lost the Vote (The New Press; On-Sale April 28, 2006), by Sasha Abramsky, award-winning journalist and Senior Fellow at Demos.

Written as a de Tocquevillian travelogue, CONNED takes the reader on a journey through America, from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf Coast. In CONNED, Abramsky highlights one of the great challenges to modern American democracy: Nearly 5 million citizens are denied their right to vote because they are in prison, on parole or probation, or because they live in a state that extends disenfranchisement well beyond "time served."

Through interviews with people in prison, former prisoners, state legislators and voting rights advocates, Abramsky illustrates the devastating consequences of modern disfranchisement. In state after state, he finds a haphazard patchwork of laws that strip people of their right to vote, and reveals how widespread misinformation and confusion among election officials results in additional disfranchisement of possibly hundreds of thousands that have had their vote restored. Abramsky identifies steps that communities and individuals are taking to educate members of their communities and elected officials, and to reform the antiquated 19th century policies that keep so many locked out of democracy in 21st century America.

Some of the numbers from CONNED:

* Up to 750,000 Floridians are disfranchised because of past felony convictions.
* In Texas, despite the fact people can vote once their sentence is up, because of the size of the correctional system, more than 750,000 citizens are denied the right to vote at any given moment in time.
* In Virginia, over 300,000 have been disfranchised.
* In Iowa, until the Governor recently used his clemency powers to restore the vote to those who had completed their prison sentence, over 100,000 were disfranchised.
* In Washington State, where the 2004 governor's race came down to a handful of votes, almost 200,000 are disfranchised.
* In Tennessee, nearly 100,000 are denied the right to vote.
* In Mississippi well over 100,000 are denied the right to vote.
* In Alabama, nearly a quarter of a million citizens are denied the right to vote.
* In Kentucky, about 150,000 are disfranchised, and the Governor recently made it more difficult to apply for vote restoration.
* In Alabama and several other Southern states, as many as a third of all voting-age African-American men may be disfranchised.

A look inside some of the personal stories from CONNED:

Tennessee: Jamaica S. picked up a low-level felony in 2000 after her then-boyfriend robbed a store and forced her to drive him from the crime scene. It was her only conviction, one for which she was permanently disfranchised. In 2004, she linked-up with Nashville-based attorneys working to restore voting rights, and a couple days before the election a judge ruled that she could vote. State Representative Larry Turner, from Memphis, has spent years trying to bring Tennessee's legislature to end permanent disfranchisement, working to illuminate its deep impact on the state's African American population.

Alabama: Clinton Drake, a Vietnam vet whose children have also served in Iraq, cannot vote after serving several years in prison on marijuana conviction. Since he can't afford to pay his court-imposed fines, he is barred from applying to have his civil rights restored. There's also Lorenzo Jones, convicted of breaking and entering when he was 18. Now in his forties and a law-abiding member of the community, he still cannot vote. Pat Davis, disgraced ex-state legislator, convicted of selling political favors, still cannot get her vote restored. By contrast, ex-Governor Guy Hunt, convicted on more serious corruption charges, pulled personal favors and managed to get his vote restored fairly quickly.

Iowa: Kelvin Briggs, former prisoner, now works with ex-offenders in inner-city Des Moines and speaks extensively about the prevalence of disfranchisement in this community. Representative Scott Raecker, a conservative Republican, has also championed the issue of re-enfranchisement.

Montana: Casey and Eddie Rudd, both former prisoners, now run voter-education programs up and down Montana, informing people with felony convictions of their right to vote.

Utah: Marianne Johnstone, heads the Prisoner Information Network, a group of grandmothers and great-grandmothers who visit prisons and registers released inmates to vote--literally as they leave the prison gates.

Virginia: Lloyd Brown, convicted on drug charges in 1988, and completed his sentence in 1995, now works in a furniture store in the town of Danville. For years, Lloyd has, without success, to get his vote restored. He submitted all the paperwork, was told he had to go through a long waiting period, re-applied after the waiting period was complete and was told the state had lost all his paperwork. As of 2004, Lloyd was still voteless.

"With the 2006 midterm elections months away, CONNED comes at crucial time in American politics. Abramsky shows us the extent to which America's democratic ideals have been eroded--by the remants of Jim Crow, by misinformation, by the drive for over-incarceration, and by politicization of our fundamental rights," said Miles Rapoport, President of Demos. "This book shockingly documents how entire communities have been removed from the political process due to disfranchisement laws. It's time our leaders give us a democracy that's modern and fair — values that are missing in our current system that strips voting rights away for life."

Sasha Abramsky is a Senior Fellow at Demos, a national, nonpartisan public policy organization based in New York. He has written for The New York Times, The Nation, Rolling Stone, and LA Weekly, among other publications. He is the author of Hard Time Blues: How Politics Build a Prison Nation, and teaches in the writing program at the University of California, Davis. He lives in Sacramento with his wife and daughter.

For more information about CONNED: How Millions Went to Prison and Lost the Vote, visit www.connedthebook.com

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