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.11) For example, party leaders in Mississippi called for disenfranchisement for offenses such as burglary, theft, and arson, but not for robbery or murder.12) 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.13) Such policies would endure for over a century. While it is debatable whether felony disenfranchisement laws today are intended to reduce the political clout of communities of color, this is their undeniable effect.
English colonists brought to North America the common law practice of “civil death,” a set of criminal penalties that included the revocation of voting rights. Early colonial laws limited the penalty of disenfranchisement to certain offenses related to voting or considered “egregious violations of the moral code.”7) After the American Revolution, states began codifying disenfranchisement provisions and expanding the penalty to all felony offenses.8) Many states instituted felony disenfranchisement policies in the wake of the Civil War, and by 1869, 29 states had enacted such laws.9) Elliot argues that the elimination of the property test as a voting qualification may help to explain the popularity of felony disenfranchisement policies, as they served as an alternate means for wealthy elites to constrict the political power of the lower classes.10)
Disenfranchisement policies have met occasional legal challenges in the last century. In Richardson v. Ramirez 418 U.S. 24 (1974), three men from California who had served time for felony convictions sued for their right to vote, arguing that the state’s felony disenfranchisement policies denied them the right to equal protection of the laws under the U.S. Constitution. Under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, a state cannot restrict voting rights unless it shows a compelling state interest. Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld California’s felony disenfranchisement policies as constitutional, finding that Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment allows the denial of voting rights “for participation in rebellion, or other crime.” In the majority opinion, Justice Rehnquist found that Section 2 – which was arguably intended to protect the voting rights of freed slaves by sanctioning states that disenfranchised them – exempts from sanction disenfranchisement based on a felony conviction. By this logic, the Equal Protection Clause in the previous section could not have been intended to prohibit such disenfranchisement policies.
Felony disenfranchisement policies have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Black Americans of voting age are more than four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population, with one of every 13 black adults disenfranchised nationally. In four states – Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent – more than one in five black adults is disenfranchised. In total, 2.2 million black citizens are banned from voting.6)
Bush, a federal appeals court dismissed those claims, noting that "criminal disenfranchisement provisions have existed as a punitive device" throughout history.People truly concerned with the well-being of felons and their successful reintegration into the civil society would want the type of system Florida has.
Although they are rooted in the “civil death” tradition of medieval Europe, disenfranchisement policies in the United States today are exceptional in their severity and the restriction of the voting rights of people who have completed their prison terms or were never incarcerated at all.21) While only two states (Maine and Vermont) in the United States allow citizens to vote from prison, the European Court of Human Rights determined in 2005 that a blanket ban on voting from prison violates the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to free and fair elections.22) Indeed, almost half of European countries allow all incarcerated individuals to vote, facilitating voting within the prison or by absentee ballot.23) In Canada, Israel, and South Africa, courts have ruled that any conviction-based restriction of voting rights is unconstitutional.
Public opinion surveys report that eight in ten U.S. residents support voting rights for citizens who have completed their sentence, and nearly two-thirds support voting rights for those on probation or parole.17) In recent years, heightened public awareness of felony disenfranchisement has resulted in successful state-level reform efforts, from legislative changes expanding voting rights to grassroots voter registration initiatives targeting individuals with felony convictions. Since 1997, 24 states have modified felony disenfranchisement provisions to expand voter eligibility.18) Among these:
Critics argue that the language of the Fourteenth Amendment does not indicate that the exemptions established in Section 2 should prohibit the application of the Equal Protection Clause to voting rights cases.14) Moreover, some contend that the Court’s interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause in Richardson is inconsistent with its previous decisions on citizenship and voting rights, in which the Court has found that the scope of the Equal Protection Clause “is not bound to the political theories of a particular era but draws much of its substance from changing social norms and evolving conceptions of equality.”15) Therefore, even if the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment seemingly accepted felony disenfranchisement, our interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause today should allow for the ways in which our concept of equality may have evolved since 1868.
Conclusion Felon disenfranchisement laws serve
What incentive would there be for law
-abiding citizens if everyone could vote?
If something is constitutional, shouldn't
that benefit the country?
Where would our country be without these
laws in place?
Felon voting laws should be kept for the sake
of the United States.
Why Felon Voting Laws are Constitutional Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment: the
right to vote can be "abridged...for participation in
rebellion, or other rebellion, or other crime..." (Felon
Disenfranchisement is Constitutional, and Justified).
Congress has not come across any evidence that felon
voting laws have shown "any significant pattern of unconstitutional discrimination." (The Bullet And The Ballot?.).
The Fourteenth Amendment cannot reduce felon
and ex-felon representation in Congress.
If the laws were abolished, there would be a
dramatic change in the protections of our
The dramatic 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.
Race Versus Felon Disenfranchisement People claim that felon voting laws are put in
place to keep blacks and Latinos from voting.
This concept began when America was founded.
Derived from the concept of civil death
These laws "[indicate] that felon
disenfranchisement was not an attempt to evade the requirements of the Civil War Amendments or to perpetuate racial discrimination forbidden by those amendments." (The Bullet And The Ballot?.).
Antebellum origins display that these laws
were kept for race-neutral reasons.