Monday, September 1, 2008

Prisons and Black Turnout

Andrew Hacker has a very insightful article in the New York Review about the things that keep black people from the polls. He is especially good on the issue of rehabilitation for convicted and released felons:

Virginia takes an especially harsh view of drug offenses, which is mainly why so many black Americans are imprisoned there, not least because it’s so easy to make such arrests. Released offenders must wait seven years before they can file a petition for their vote, which must be accompanied by seven documents and several supporting letters, plus another to the governor detailing “how your life has changed” and specifying “why you feel your rights should be restored.”

Mississippi has a similar regimen: with 155,127 men and women released between 1992 and 2004, only 107 petitions to have the right to vote restored were approved. The disenfranchisement of former felons in Kentucky has reduced its potential black electorate by 24 percent.

According to the Brennan Center report, only Maine and Vermont allow inmates to vote (as they can in Israel and Canada). Thirteen states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, allow former convicts to vote upon their release from prison, while twenty-five bar voting until such ex-prisoners have completed their probation or parole. The other ten, like Alabama and Virginia, make the process of reattaining the right to vote so arduous that most people don’t try. Nor does there seem to be much sentiment in those states for removing the bans or lowering the barriers.

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