Felon Voting Restrictions Disenfranchise More Minority Voters Than Voter ID Laws




Studies continue to show that strict photo identification requirements have the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters and have a disproportionate impact on minority voters But a new report found that an even bigger threat to minority participation comes from state laws stripping felons of their right to vote.

An international examination by ProCon.org found that 21 out of 45 democracies surveyed have no restriction on felons voting. Of those, just five have laws that can prevent even those convicted felons who have served their entire sentence from being re-enfranchised: Armenia, Belgium, Chile, Finland and the United States.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that in the U.S., this causes a major racial disparity:

The people overwhelmingly affected by these laws are minorities. Only 2.5%, 5.8 million people, in the voting age population were made ineligible to vote by felon voting laws in 2010, according to the Sentencing Project. That percentage tripled to 7.7% among African-Americans. Another way of putting this is that 38%, 2.2 million, of all those stopped from voting by felon restrictions are black. About a million black ex-felons (i.e. those who have “paid their debt to society”) are disenfranchised.

In 12 of the 50 U.S. states felons may permanently lose their right to vote, even after they have completed their prison sentence, parole, and probation. They include Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Virginia — states that were at least partially covered by Section 5 the Voting Rights Act (before the recent Supreme Court ruling gutted the law) based on their history of minority disenfranchisement.

While there has been some bipartisan effort to reform this system, it remains a serious impediment to minority participation in American democracy.