“Who Gets to Vote?”

Apparently the NYTImes is doing “a series about the complexities of voters and voting” under this category. First entry, from Erika L. Wood, discusses the ugly historical roots behind the legal disenfranchisement of ex-convicts:

Next November more than 5 million Americans will not be allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction in their past. Nearly 4 million of these people are not in prison, yet they remain disenfranchised for years, often for decades and sometimes for life….
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These laws trace their roots through the troubled history of American race relations. In the late 1800s criminal disenfranchisement laws spread as part of a larger backlash against the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments – the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments – that ended slavery, granted equal citizenship to freed slaves and prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Criminal disenfranchisement laws followed in their wake. They were employed right alongside poll taxes and literacy tests as part of an organized effort to design supposedly race neutral laws that were in fact intentional barriers to African-American voting. According to historian Alexander Keyssar’s “The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, between 1865 and 1900,” 27 states enacted laws restricting the voting rights of people with criminal convictions.
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When states enacted criminal disenfranchisement laws, they also expanded their criminal codes to punish offenses that they believed targeted recently freed slaves. In an 1896 decision, Ratliff v. Beale, the Mississippi Supreme Court confirmed that the new state constitution narrowed the disenfranchisement provision to target certain crimes such as theft, perjury, forgery and bigamy of which blacks were then more often convicted. . .






54 replies
  1. 1
    schrodinger's cat says:

    The other end of the spectrum of not letting convicted felons vote even after they serve time is when you have notorious criminals running for office from prison and winning, which has happened in India.

  2. 2
    gene108 says:

    When states enacted criminal disenfranchisement laws, they also expanded their criminal codes to punish offenses that they believed targeted recently freed slaves.

    Well duh…they whole point of so much that was done after 1865 was to get back to a slavery like state, without actually re-instituting slavery…

    Expanded criminal codes just helped fuel the movement to keep blacks in their place.

    It’s interesting how blind modern conservatives have chosen to be to the ugly truth of race relations in this country. They really are flirting with bringing back the worst parts of Americas past.

  3. 3
    PeakVT says:

    I’ve always thought that permanently relegating people to a sort of second-class citizenship even after all other punishments have ended should be prevented by the “no cruel or unusual punishment” clause. But I’m a woolly-headed liberal.

    ETA: The second pdf linked in the article is worth looking at.

  4. 4
    GregB says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Happened in Boston too.

    Google Mayor Curley.

  5. 5
    Poopyman says:

    @PeakVT: Well, Nino Scalia would tell you that it’s not cruel, and clearly not unusual, since several (most?) states have been doing it for decades. So suck it! Vaffanculo!

  6. 6
  7. 7
    Dustin says:

    I’ve always maintained that ex-convict disenfranchisement laws, forcing someone to live in a democracy they have no say in, is a morally unjustifiable act. In my opinion that gives them free reign to ignore every law on the books and live life by their conscience alone. Obviously the police and judicial system disagree.

  8. 8
    Xenos says:

    This has to be tied into the campaign against marijuana, and the war on drugs generally. The strongest supporters for the war on drugs are in the rural areas, and most of the enforcement is in urban areas, while most of the drug use is in the suburbs.

    How the whole system can survive a review under the XIVth amendment is beyond me. I suppose I could do the legal research, but it would just be too depressing.

  9. 9
    Mark B. says:

    I see no point in the disenfranchisement period extending beyond the actual sentence (maybe including probation). If you’re going to let someone out but not let them be a citizen, they are not free.

  10. 10

    BUT WE’RE A POST-RACIAL SOCIETY DAMMIT!

  11. 11
    Xenos says:

    @lonesomerobot:

    BUT WE’RE A POST-RACIAL SOCIETY DAMMIT!

    Of course we are — we oppress all the brown people, regardless of what race they are.

  12. 12
    PeakVT says:

    The (somewhat dated) stats for Florida are mind-boggling:

    Total Disenfranchisement (2004): 1,179,687 Rate: 9.01%
    African American Disenfranchisement: 293,545 Rate: 18.82%

  13. 13
    Waldo says:

    To a conservative’s way of thinking, this merely shows disenfranchisement has tradition going for it. Granted it’s not a proud tradition, but any time they can wed a cynical political ploy to tradition, well, so much the better.

  14. 14
    willard says:

    @PeakVT: Wow. 19%.

  15. 15
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @gene108:

    They really are flirting with bringing back the worst parts of Americas past.

    To them, that’s a feature, not a bug.

    Get the damn darkies (and the white trash) back in their place.

    David Koch epitomizes this attitude with his disdain for Obama because “he’s an egalitarian”.

    If the top 1% could make that provision about titles of nobility in the Constitution go away with the stroke of a pen, they’d be on that in a heartbeat.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    I might add that David Koch is where he is because he and his brother inherited a shitload of money that his Dad got from Uncle Joe Stalin.

    The notion that these assholes born on third base are there due strictly to their own hard work ignores the fact that their mother did the actual work for them.

  17. 17
    PeakVT says:

    @willard: Iowa has the worst AA disenfranchisement at 33%, but Florida has the highest overall of the states mentioned in the pdf.

    I knew this was a problem, but the numbers are a lot bigger than I realized.

  18. 18
    Catsy says:

    I’ve always maintained that ex-convict disenfranchisement laws, forcing someone to live in a democracy they have no say in, is a morally unjustifiable act. In my opinion that gives them free reign to ignore every law on the books and live life by their conscience alone.

    If you’re going to let someone out but not let them be a citizen, they are not free.

    All of this.

    Disenfranchisement laws are just flat-out indefensible. The only justification I could think of for stripping a citizen of their right to vote is if their crime was a severe subversion or abuse of the voting process itself. Like, say, electoral fraud or a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise legal voters. And even then, the points above still stand.

    Besides, Republicans would just complain that such a penalty disproportionately affects them.

  19. 19
    bin Lurkin' says:

    @Xenos:

    This has to be tied into the campaign against marijuana, and the war on drugs generally. The strongest supporters for the war on drugs are in the rural areas, and most of the enforcement is in urban areas, while most of the drug use is in the suburbs.

    A policy that Obama explicitly supports because he wishes to save people from the misery of drug use that destroyed his own life.

  20. 20
    bin Lurkin' says:

    @PeakVT: Hmm.. Democrats support a policy that disenfranchises 10% of their most reliable voting block.

    I wonder what 10% more black voters would have done to the election results in FL in 2000?

  21. 21
    Brachiator says:

    Restoring the right to vote to felons is lower on my list of priorities to encouraging people not to commit crimes in the first place, and to insuring that the system is not rigged to railroad people or punishing them unfairly.

    That said, permanent disenfranchisement, and disenfranchisement for minor offenses, is unreasonable.

  22. 22
    Roxsie says:

    After serving 20 months in prison, I left with $200, a pat on the back, and a farewell of “see you soon”. The right to vote was at the bottom of my concerns. However, I found out I couldn’t vote in California until I discharged my parole which was 3 years. When society tells me over and over in so many ways that I’m scum and I don’t deserve the same liberties my fellow citizens enjoy only adds to demoralization which might end up with with a big “fuck this” attitude. What happens next is very predictable.

  23. 23
    bin Lurkin' says:

    @Brachiator:

    Restoring the right to vote to felons is lower on my list of priorities to encouraging people the government not to commit make things crimes that shouldn’t be crimes in the first place

    FTFY

  24. 24
    Woodrowfan says:

    the comments on the NYT story are depressing. Lots of bigots out there.

  25. 25
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @bin Lurkin’:Whatever it was, not enough.

    No Florida ex-felon ever sat on the US Supreme Court, and damn few in the Florida State legislature, which was about to send their own slate of electors to Washington, where it would be challenged, and the challenge heard by a GOP-dominated House.

    Gore was not going to win that election. Period. There was a defense-in-depth and the Supreme Court wasn’t even the MLR.

  26. 26
    bin Lurkin' says:

    @Davis X. Machina: How many votes did Gore “lose” by again?

    I mean in FL, not the USSC.

  27. 27
    bin Lurkin' says:

    I find it revealing that whenever I start posting on drug policy on any forum I’ve ever been on that after at most a few replies I always get crickets.

  28. 28
    Brachiator says:

    @Roxsie:

    After serving 20 months in prison, I left with $200, a pat on the back, and a farewell of “see you soon”.

    And you served 20 months in prison for … ?

  29. 29
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Mark B.:

    If you’re going to let someone out but not let them be a citizen, they are not free.

    This this this this this. Cannot be emphasized or said often enough.

  30. 30
    Brachiator says:

    @bin Lurkin’:

    I find it revealing that whenever I start posting on drug policy on any forum I’ve ever been on that after at most a few replies I always get crickets.

    The thread started out on the larger issue of voting rights. Do you have something compelling to say about drug policy?

  31. 31
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Brachiator:

    And you served 20 months in prison for … ?

    I’m trying as politely as I can to wonder why that is any of your business, or mine, or anyone not immediately and directly affected.

  32. 32
    Roxsie says:

    Petty Theft w priors(shoplifting) in order to support my addiction to heroin. Clean now. Been a mighty struggle.

  33. 33
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Roxsie:

    Congratulations. That’s huge.

  34. 34
    patrick II says:

    @bin Lurkin’:
    It’s worse than that. Jeb Bush had a contractor use computers to find ex-criminals living in florida and negate their voting registration. Part of their search criteria was ssn. The list of names returned wasn’t big enough so Jeb changed contractors, changed the search criteria, excluding among other things ssn, and got a longer list of names. Many people on that list weren’t ex-criminals at all, but those who happened to have the same or similar name and live in the same area as criminals went to the polls but were not allowed to vote that day.

    When you start putting restrictions on the right to vote, people start looking for an edge.

  35. 35
    ant says:

    ive got a duplex that i rent out the other side of….

    Whilst doing background checks on people, I’m noticing a lot of folks with felony convictions that happen while they were teenagers. They were charged as adults. 10-15 years later, they have not gotten into any more trouble, and have jobs now. They grew up.

    Another thing is the sex offenders.

    Having someone see you fap in your own house through the front window from the sidewalk can very well land you on a list for life. Or dating someone you went to high school with.

    When I looked at the sex offender map thingy for my neighborhood, the convictions were mostly decades old. Who knows for what.

    fucking worthless.

    Crime laws just got to get harsher. No matter what. It should be interesting to see where this is all headed for in X amount of years….

  36. 36
    Mnemosyne says:

    I can understand not letting people vote while they’re actually imprisoned since part of your punishment is that you’re being separated from normal society, but permanently removing someone’s right to vote even after they’ve served their time is just being an asshole to be an asshole. Roxsie’s right, it’s a way to continue punishing people even after they’ve supposedly paid their debt to society. And, of course, as with so many things in this society, it’s a punishment that falls most heavily on minorities, especially African-Americans.

    Which state was it that was going to make ex-felons write letters to the governor basically begging for their voting rights back, and the governor was going to get to pick and choose who he thought was worthy? I wanted to punch that jerk right in the throat.

  37. 37
    Brachiator says:

    @SiubhanDuinne:

    I’m trying as politely as I can to wonder why that is any of your business, or mine, or anyone not immediately and directly affected.

    You don’t have to be polite.

    Seems to me that if you lead off with “After serving 20 months in prison,” you have to expect that readers would be curious about what the circumstances might have been.

    And I note that the poster did respond.

    @Roxsie: I congratulate you as well.

    And for the sake of those who are slow on the pick up, I don’t assume that a person is scum just because they have a criminal conviction.

  38. 38
    Roxsie says:

    In October I gained back my right to vote again after an early discharge of parole for good behavior. That right, actually, will be a “recovery tool” I use to stay out of trouble in order to vote next November which is very important to me. Always looking for the sunny side.

  39. 39
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Roxsie:

    Good luck with your recovery! I have a friend at work who is a recovering alcoholic who still attends AA meetings at least once a week, and more if she’s stressed out. It seems like the backbone of that program isn’t the 12 steps exactly, but having a peer group that you can go to and reveal just about anything without judgement, because they’ve done similar (or worse).

  40. 40
    Anonymous At Work says:

    Sounds like a good one-two punch if you read “Slavery By Another Name” (http://www.slaverybyanothername.com/) about the South’s forced labor camps for blacks under trumped up laws.

  41. 41
    Roxsie says:

    A state like Florida which strips away the voting rights for ex-cons for life, fails to see the incentive for someone to become a productive member of society instead of a burden. Boggles the mind.

    Zander post just up. Looks interesting

  42. 42
    Triassic Sands says:

    Permanent disenfranchisement, except perhaps in rare cases, is a terrible idea. It ought to be obvious that it is in society’s interest to re-integrate ex-cons as fully as possible into the system.

    Punishment is hight overrated.

  43. 43

    Anybody here care to take a look at “gun control” laws and their history? See the Saturday Nite Special laws for a real eye opener.

    Statistics and such can help you make reasoned decisions, fear mongering – not so much. The history of these laws doesn’t mean you can’t do useful reasonable things but it does suggest there is a reason for caution.

  44. 44

    @Roxsie:
    From someone 23 yrs clean and sober – congratulations.

    as a cautionary note, real life offers plenty of opportunities for “excuses.”

  45. 45
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Chuck Butcher:

    IIRC, California had essentially no gun control laws until the Black Panthers started carrying rifles in Oakland.

  46. 46

    @Mnemosyne:

    the backbone of that program isn’t the 12 steps exactly,

    Well, hmmm. It is quite true that shared experience and hope is a big deal. It is also true that those 12 Steps tell you to do some pretty damn difficult things. For example, just how many people do you know who have “taken a searching and fearless moral inventory”? And then shared it with another? You personally might think it isn’t that hard … until you start actually doing such a thing in a very serious … searching and fearless manner. It is one of the rarest exercises I know of…

  47. 47

    @Mnemosyne:
    and banned guns that feature in a small percentage of crimes and are not what people “assume” they are.

  48. 48
    Brachiator says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    IIRC, California had essentially no gun control laws until the Black Panthers started carrying rifles in Oakland.

    Really? Apart from stuff about federal gun laws, this is the only thing I could quickly find in relation to California:

    1989: California bans the possession of semiautomatic assault weapons following the massacre of five children on a Stockton, CA school playground.

  49. 49
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Chuck Butcher:

    I’m fortunate that I avoided alcoholism (it runs in my family) so I don’t have personal experience but through observation it seems like the meetings are the key to maintaining sobriety after you initially work through the 12 steps, not that the 12 steps aren’t important. I may not have expressed it correctly.

  50. 50
    moderateindy says:

    To be honest, although I totally agree with the idea that any type of disenfranchisement is wrong, this particular problem with felons is not something I can give any real time or energy to trying to fix. Not because these people were convicted of a crime,and are supposedly “bad”, but because my guess is that felons reside, in all likelihood, in the category of 50 percent of Americans that don’t bother voting. So I wonder how many people this actually affects as compared to how many it potentially affects. It doesn’t mean it’s not wrong, it just means it is on the bottom of my priorties list when it comes to injustices that need fixing .

  51. 51
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Brachiator:

    I found it — it was the Mulford Act, signed into law by ol’ Ronnie Reagan himself in 1967.

    ETA: Found a little more on the PBS website. Until the Mulford Act, in California you could carry a loaded weapon in public as long as you displayed it openly.

  52. 52
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Brachiator:

    Seems to me that if you lead off with “After serving 20 months in prison,” you have to expect that readers would be curious about what the circumstances might have been.

    Oh, I was curious, of course; as you say, who wouldn’t be? But I didn’t think it was my business until and unless Roxsie volunteered whatever she (gender assumption) wanted to share with a bunch of online strangers. Sorry, I know I came off like an officious and pompous ass.

    And I note that the poster did respond.

    Which was cool of Roxsie, and I’ve been interested in the subsequent conversation with Chuck Butcher, Mnem, and others about getting/staying sober and what that requires. Anyone who can go through that brutally honest self-assessment and come out the other side should probably be allowed at least two votes in every election :-)

  53. 53
    Brachiator says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    I found it—it was the Mulford Act, signed into law by ol’ Ronnie Reagan himself in 1967.

    The Panthers should have joined the National Rifle Association.

    @SiubhanDuinne:

    Which was cool of Roxsie, and I’ve been interested in the subsequent conversation with Chuck Butcher, Mnem, and others about getting/staying sober and what that requires. Anyone who can go through that brutally honest self-assessment and come out the other side should probably be allowed at least two votes in every election :-)

    Absolutely agree.

  54. 54

    @Brachiator:
    I could blush…

    But, knowing who the hell you are isn’t the same thing as knowing anything about other things that also require study and reflection.

    edit: knowing who you are is supposed to mean doing something about it, including change or avoiding your character faults.

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