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….
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.
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. . .