The background of felony disenfranchisement, specifically in with African Americans, can be traced all the way back to the 17th century in the “newly” established America. Despite the 13th amendment, which “abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime”, the 14th amendment, which “declared that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. were citizens and that any state that denied or abridged the voting rights of males over the age of 21 would be subject to proportional reductions in its representation in the U.S. House of Representatives”, and the 15th amendment that “forbid any state to deprive a citizen of his vote because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (History, Art & Archives, 2013). there were several other laws and regulations put in place to continue to deprive and oppress African Americans across the “United” States.
Many of these laws were put in place to purposely targeting way to stop African Americans from voting because that was one of the most powerful tools that had to have a voice in politics, which was were change could be made for the betterment of themselves and their families. Poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and cross burnings were effective weapons in this campaign. But statutes that allowed correctional systems to arbitrarily and permanently strip large numbers of people of the right to vote were a particularly potent tool in the campaign to undercut African-American political power. (Staples, 2014)
The history of disenfranchisement was laid out in an interesting study by Angela Behrens, Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza. In it, they found that state felony bans exploded in number during the late 1860s and 1870s, particularly in the wake of the Fifteenth Amendment, which ostensibly guaranteed black Americans the right to vote. They also found that the larger the state’s black population, the more likely the state was to pass the most stringent laws that permanently denied people convicted of crimes the right to vote. These reasons for this was obvious; have tighter laws in states with higher black populations, in order to disenfranchise as much of the African American population as possible. Besides this, the bans and restrictions also heightened during the Jim Crow ere. (Pilgrim, 2012) Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism. By the end of the Civil War, states were already incarcerating African Americans at a higher rate than whites. This disparity significantly worsened in the ensuing years, a fact well-documented in the South. Although outlawing slavery itself, the Thirteenth Amendment carved out an exception allowing states to impose involuntary servitude on those who were convicted of crimes. Seeing an opportunity to sustain their crumbling economy, numerous Southern politicians quickly implemented new criminal laws that were “essentially intended to criminalize black life,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas Blackmon. These ostensibly race-neutral laws were selectively enforced by a nearly all-white criminal justice system. While white people accused of crimes often escaped punishment, black people were arrested and convicted “almost always under the thinnest chimera of probable cause or judicial process,” as Blackmon put it. Identifying these new criminal laws as “Black Codes,” historian Eric Foner describes how they bolstered the South’s faltering economy by providing employers “with a supply of cheap labor” through convict leasing. This system was reserved nearly entirely for black prisoners — at least 90 percent of those forced into convict leasing arrangements were black. Because convict leasing generated significant profits for states, law enforcement officials, and companies alike, the practice incentivized baseless arrests and convictions of black citizens. These factors and others spurred widening disparities in incarceration rates. In Alabama, for example, the percentage of nonwhite prisoners jumped from 2 percent in 1850, to 74 percent by 1870. (Kelley, 2017)
From this, these policies and laws were clear strategies to unnecessarily make a huge population of African Americans, felons to continue to disenfranchise and oppress them.
In this research essay, it is about felon disenfranchisement of more minorities, but more in depth, it is about rights that have been taking away from them; specifically voting rights. Since the 17th and 18th century, our nation is still dealing with the racist origins of felony disenfranchisement. The targeted laws of the late 1800’s is less prominent; most states do not distinguish between specific felonies, but instead, imposing disenfranchisement as a consequence for all felony convictions. But the racial impact of these laws continues, with disproportionate numbers of people of color arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and as a result disenfranchised, as well. The related inception of mass incarceration and harsh sentencing has led to unprecedented, and still rising, levels of disenfranchisement nationally.
Furthermore, this mass disenfranchisement has serious consequences beyond those directly impacted; studies show that these laws also keep eligible voters away from the polls. Many states’ disenfranchisement policies are so complex that election officials often misunderstand and misrepresent them, spreading inaccurate messages and causing untold numbers of would-be voters to wrongly believe they are ineligible.36 And the turnout-dampening effects of disenfranchisement most seriously impact black communities. A 2009 study found that eligible and registered black voters were nearly 12 percent less likely to cast ballots if they lived in states with lifetime disenfranchisement policies — while white voters’ probability of voting decreased by only 1 percent in such states. The study’s results “suggest that felony disenfranchisement exacerbates the bias against low socioeconomic status racial and ethnic minorities in electoral outcomes and policy responsiveness.” Legal challenges to felony disenfranchisement have largely floundered, after a 1974 Supreme Court ruling held that the practice is generally permissible under section two of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Despite these courtroom losses, the nation has seen promising momentum towards reform of felony disenfranchisement laws over the past two decades. In this timeframe, a number of states have taken legislative or executive action to change their policies by shortening the disenfranchisement period that follows a felony conviction.40 But the number of disenfranchised Americans continues to increase — growing more than a quarter of a million in just six years between 2010 and 2016.41 Deeper and wider-reaching change is urgently needed. Because they are inseparable from the entrenched racial disparities of our criminal justice system, felony disenfranchisement laws continually reproduce inequity in our democracy. Given these policies’ roots in historical efforts to prevent black men from voting, this impact is not surprising. Rather, the surprise lies in the fact that these laws persist in a democracy that claims to value every citizen’s voice. (Kelley, 2017)
As Americans honor those who fought for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, 50 years ago, it’s easy to forget that 5.9 million citizens — 2.2 million of them African-Americans — remain disenfranchised today. One out of every 13 African-Americans is prohibited from casting a ballot in the United States. These men and women lost their right to vote because of felony convictions. Depending on the laws in their states, some may regain access to the polls when they complete their prison sentences, finish parole, or complete probation, but those in Kentucky, Florida and Iowa will be disenfranchised for the rest of their lives. There are currently only two states, Maine and Vermont — who allow those currently in prison on felony charges to vote, and eight states even ban inmates with misdemeanors. (Quandt, 2015)
Based on this information, it is clear that I am firmly against felony disenfranchisement of minorities for several reasons. As I previously mentioned, nearly 1 of every 13 African Americans has lost their voting rights due from disparities in felony disenfranchisement law, in contrast to the 1 in every 56 of non-black voters. What is even worse about this statistic is that African Americans only make up about 12% of the United States population, while the white Americans are the majority and make up and whopping 77% of the population! This meaning that there is a huge disparity is the proportion of African Americans white felonies versus the rest of the population and high percent of the black population are incarcerated or have a felony, and as a result, cannot vote.
Furthermore, a striking 6.1 million Americans are prohibited from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses. Felony disenfranchisement rates vary by state, as states institute a wide range of disenfranchisement policies. There are many laws in history that contributed to this institutionalized idea. In the post-Reconstruction period, several Southern states tailored their disenfranchisement laws in order to bar black male voters, targeting those offenses believed to be committed most frequently by the black population. For example, party leaders in Mississippi called for disenfranchisement for offenses such as burglary, theft, and arson, but not for robbery or murder. The author of Alabama’s disenfranchisement provision “estimated the crime of wife-beating alone would disqualify sixty percent of the Negroes,” resulting in a policy that would disenfranchise a man for beating his wife, but not for killing her. Such policies would endure for over a century. (Chung, 2016) While there may be debates whether felony disenfranchisement laws today are intended to reduce the political clout of communities of color, the simple answer is yes, and cannot be proven otherwise, and even with reform efforts, e overall disenfranchisement rate has increased dramatically in conjunction with the growing U.S. prison population, rising from 1.17 million in 1976 to 6.1 million by 2016.
A great example of how this is affecting our political system is in the 200 Bush-Gore presidential election. The political impact of the unprecedented disenfranchisement rate in recent years is not insignificant. One study found that disenfranchisement policies likely affected the results of seven U.S. Senate races from 1970 to 1998 as well as the hotly contested 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election. Even if disenfranchised voters in Florida alone had been permitted to vote, Bush’s narrow victory “would almost certainly have been reversed.”
The overwhelming growth of the U.S. prison population in the last 40 years has led to record levels of disenfranchisement, with an estimated 6.1 million voters banned from the polls today. Disenfranchisement policies vary widely by state, ranging from no restrictions on voting to a lifetime ban upon conviction. Felony disenfranchisement has potentially affected the outcomes of U.S. elections, particularly as disenfranchisement policies disproportionately impact people of color. Nationwide, one in every 13 black adults cannot vote as the result of a felony conviction, and in four states – Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than one in five black adults is disenfranchised. Denying the right to vote to an entire class of citizens is deeply problematic, oppressive to a democratic society, counterproductive to effective reentry, and shows the streamline of racism that persist in society today.