Felon Disenfranchisement Laws

Many states deny convicted felons the right to vote.  The history of these laws is truly disturbing and is rooted only in ignorance and racism, with no legitimate purpose whatsoever.  In the 1890s, many states (particularly those in the South) created a comprehensive series of laws to limit black voting.  States created literacy and landownership requirements for voting, but also made disenfranchisement a consequence of crimes most likely to be committed by African Americans.  Back then, they weren’t shy about it either.  Here’s what Virginia Delegate Carter Glass had to say on the House floor:

“This plan of popular suffrage will eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than five years, so that in no single county of the Commonwealth will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”

So why do we have felon disenfranchisement laws?  Simply put, to ensure that white men can continue to run the country uninterrupted.  Today, one in three African-American males in Florida is unable to vote because of these laws.

Before the Supreme Court will invalidate a law with a discriminatory effect, there must be evidence of discriminatory intent.  In 1900, the government was honest about its racism and Mr. Glass didn’t feel a need to hide the true reason behind banning felon voting.  Courts struck down some of these laws, but only where the discriminatory purpose was clearly stated.  After the laws were struck down, the states re-enacted laws with virtually the same effect, but this time they didn’t voice their racist intentions.

Many states still have felon voting bans, but can you think of any legitimate reason to keep people from participating in society while also expecting them to follow the rules?


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