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The Underreported Story of Ex-Felon Disenfranchisement

Joseph Hines

Voter ID isn’t the only law unjustly limiting citizen's voting rights. In an excellent piece for Salon, Erik Nielson illuminates the widespread disenfranchisement of convicted felons. Although state laws vary in severity, all but two have some sort of restrictions preventing convicted felons from voting.

The biggest state-by-state differences lie in whether an ex-con is ever allowed vote again. Nielson writes that “the 11 states that, in addition to Mississippi, do not restore voting rights to convicted felons account for 45 percent of the country’s disenfranchised population.” If that weren’t enough, he also finds that over 20 percent of Florida and Virginia’s African-American population of voting age have been prohibited from voting.

Nielson also highlights particularly egregious laws in Mississippi:

In the Magnolia State, convicts wishing to vote again must either appeal directly to the governor for an executive order or ask their state representative to author a bill restoring their right to vote, a bill that both houses of the legislature must pass. Big shock: re-enfranchisement in Mississippi is only marginally more common than voter fraud; just .08 percent of ex-felons in Mississippi have seen their voting rights restored.

National voting rights should be an issue to voters regardless of their political affiliation as inequities in our electoral system clearly translate into inequalities of representation. The racial component makes the fundamental inequality more troubling.

And the consequences of these laws can be large. As Demos noted in our 2003 report, Punishing at the Polls, attempts to purge ex-felons from Florida's voting rolls in 2000 knocked many eligible voters off the rolls and helped George W. Bush narrowly win that state.