How Do You Disenfranchise 1 in 8 Black Men?

Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, March 17, 2010

State laws that ban convicted felons from voting are having the unintentional (or is it intentional?) effect of disenfranchising one in eight African-American men.

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But in many states, convicted felons can’t vote even after they’ve re-entered society. And because of the disproportionate number of black men convicted of felonies, the effect on that population has been tremendously magnified.

An estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on their felony convictions, 4 million of whom are out of prison. About a third of them are black, including 13 percent of all African-American men.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are proposing to change that. H.R. 3335, the Democracy Restoration Act, would bar states from disenfranchising felons from federal elections after they’ve been released from prison. {snip}

At a subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, called the matter “a question of rehabilitation, democracy and fairness.” {snip}

NYU Law School Professor Burt Neuborne argued that “most felony disenfranchisement statutes have their genesis in an effort to disenfranchise racial minorities” and that the “felony disenfranchisement laws of one kind or another” that “remain on the books of 48 of the 50 states” are “a morally repugnant link with a racist past.”

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Two witnesses spoke in defense of the current system, including Hans von Spakovsky, whose claim to fame is his stint in the Bush Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, where he turned the voting rights section’s mission on its head–working to make it harder, not easier, for poor and minority voters to cast ballots. {snip}

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Von Spakovsky said it was a matter of states’ rights. And he both mocked and questioned the motivations of the bill’s sponsors:

Why does this bill not also amend federal law to allow them to once again own a handgun? Are we to believe that they can be trusted to vote but not to own a handgun? Are we to believe that the sponsors of this legislation think that a convicted child molester can be trusted to vote but cannot be trusted to be a teacher in a public school? Are we to believe a convicted drug dealer can be trusted to vote but cannot be trusted to be a police officer? Or is the true motivation here based more on the fact that their vote is important to winning close elections?

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