Felony disenfranchisement is a racial equity issue- Paula Larson-Miller

In February of this year, the photo above was used to support the pro-Voter ID agenda of Minnesota Majority, a conservative organization which fights for “traditional values.” This ad plays on racist ideologies and upholds the stigmatization of individuals who have criminal records.  One core message behind the image seems to be, quite simply,  “Vote yes, because we don’t want felons voting anymore than we do ghosts or dead people .”

Do you agree with that statement?  The Sentencing Project estimates that 5.85 million Americans are politically disenfranchised in the United States due to felony convictions.

Different states have different policies regarding the voting rights of those who have a felony on their criminal record. Here in Minnesota, those with felony convictions are ineligible to vote until they are done with their prison sentence, parole, and probation. There are currently 59,226 people who are disenfranchised in this state, a total of 1.47% of the total voting age population. Of course, Minnesota’s numbers are modest compared to states like Alabama, Arizona, and Florida, (where 7.19%, 4.19%, and 10.42% of voters are disenfranchised, respectively). See the study here.

But why would we want to silence anyone’s voice at all? What’s going to happen if ex-felons, or current felons for that matter, vote? Maine and Vermont do not disenfranchise anyone based on a felony conviction, and they don’t seem to be falling apart because of it.

More importantly, felony disenfranchisement is a racial equity issue. People of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and it’s not because they commit more crime than their white counterparts. Racial profiling and discrimination are present in literally every stage of the criminal justice system, from time of arrest to prosecution and sentencing, resulting in more people of color with criminal records. Thus, those who are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction are disproportionately people of color, serving to weaken the political voice of entire communities.

I have to pose the question: Who profits from silencing large proportions of our communities? In my perspective, I think that is counter-intuitive to this democracy that we all supposedly support.

We shouldn’t be afraid of the votes of people who have committed  or been charged with a felony. I would even argue that many individuals from this population may be more qualified to make an informed decision  in election years because they have been directly and personally impacted by our nation’s laws and legislation.  Their voices need to be heard and their votes need to be counted if we want to make positive changes to our society which leaves so many of us behind.

References:

Minnesota Majority. “Voter Fraud.” Cartoon. MPR News. 20, February. 2012. 07, October. 2012.

Procon,org. (08, August, 2012). Felon Voting.

Uggen, Christopher, Sarah Shannon, and Jeff Manza. “State Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010 .” sentencingproject.org. The Sentencing Project: Research and Advocacy for Reform.

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