NEW YORK—With a victory in Iowa last week and appeals arguments Wednesday in federal court, advocates for restoring felons’ right to vote say they are making progress in rolling back laws that disproportionately affect blacks and other minorities.
“Felony disenfranchisement laws are the last vestiges of Jim Crow,” said Catherine Weiss, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University who is working on the issue. “They disenfranchise African Americans way out of proportion to their numbers in the population.”
As of 2000, almost 5 million Americans couldn’t vote because of laws that restrict those convicted of a felony from casting ballots, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group that favors alternatives to prison. Four in 10 of those disenfranchised were black.
Yet advocates are now celebrating developments such as Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack’s announcement Friday that he plans to reverse his state’s lifetime ban on felon voting.
With 13 percent of all black men barred from voting because of disenfranchisement laws, advocates say, many have become disengaged. Felons also face prohibitions in other areas of life, such as living in public housing, obtaining ID cards and getting student loans.