Each year millions of US citizens are being prevented from voting, simply because they are incarcerated. A new report by The Sentencing Project analyzes the growing scope of voter disenfranchisement among prisoners, as well as ex-offenders. The study also found that minority populations are disproportionately impacted by this growing problem of systematic voting restrictions.
The Daily Beast reported that most of these voter suppression efforts have their roots in unjust racist laws that were enacted to prevent African-Americans from going to the polls back in the 19th and 20th centuries. Lee Rowland, counsel for the NYU Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program, explained that such legislation which keeps felons and others from being allowed to vote has:
“…their roots in Jim Crow laws, and were passed along with relics like literacy tests and poll taxes.”
There are no federal standards defining whether a person in jail can still vote. Some state laws, like those in Vermont and Maine, freely allow unrestricted voting access to the incarcerated, while places like Florida are taking voter suppression to new extremes. That state is now trying to make it even more difficult for its citizens to vote, even years after they have been released from prison.
The current Florida Republican governor recently overturned a sensible reform enacted by his GOP predecessor, Governor Charlie Crist, which automatically restored the right to vote for over 100,000 non-violent former felons as soon as they completed their jail sentences. Now these individuals, most of whom are not white, are forced to wait for at least five years, and then officially petition the Executive Clemency Board for permission to have their voting rights eventually reinstated.
It makes no logical sense to me why people in jail are ever denied their civil right to vote. Perhaps such irrational oppressive restrictions only make sense to members of the Klu Klux Klan, or maybe to someone who is trying to disenfranchise citizens who might be likely to vote for their political opponents?