Voting Rights – Getting Them Back

Posted December 1, 2007

I met a woman a few weeks ago who has been working on a voting-rights project in The Bronx for several years now. She said that 48 of 50 states strip felons of voting rights and that 5 million potential voters are legally denied that basic right.

Worse, 10 to 15 million ex-offenders believe they cannot vote because of widespread misinformation. And, in New York alone, nearly 40 percent of voting officials believe that convicted felons can never regain the ballot, which is not true.

Maggie believes activity around voting rights in the 2008 national election is especially important because of what follows in 2009 – local elections. And I agree with her. Locally made decisions have far greater impact on people’s daily lives than national ones.

The election shenanigans in Florida and Ohio were very important to the Right-wing – it took control of resources and decision-making power on a vast scale. I would argue though, that widespread, ongoing electoral theft is most instructive in reminding conservatives all over the country that despite the democratic majority, power can be held onto and – especially in the South – regained.

It’s a national issue, but one we’ll have to fight state by state over many decades. As you think about independent political activity for the 2008 campaign, consider how to create opportunities to surface this crying issue and lay some local groundwork.

I suspect it will be up to radical forces to attend to the most basic work of democracy and future political power. Ta, Kate


2 responses to “Voting Rights – Getting Them Back”

  1.  Avatar

    This is and will continue to be a huge issue nationally. It has already thrown at least seven Senate seats into Republican hands since 1978, and was decisive in the 2000 Presidential election. (interested folks can read the details from this fact sheet prepared by Marc Mauer at The Sentencing Project).

    Florida (yes that state that kept the whole process in limbo for over a month) has more disenfranchised felons than any other state — over 800,000. Bush won there the first time by only 537 votes, and estimates indicate he would have lost by close to 85,000 votes if everyone had been allowed to vote. (Ever wonder why liberals haven’t spilled as much ink over this as they have blaming spoiler Ralph Nader for everything from global warming to the single handed destruction of western civilization?)

    Another important way mass incarceration dilutes the political power of people of color comes from the fact that current inmates are counted in the census based on where they are incarcerated, not where they actually are from. This affects the way that redistricting is done, and in a state like New York it means upstate county populations are artificially inflated–giving them more power in Albany than they should have–while New York City neighborhoods get less.

    Since most upstate counties with prisons are overwhelmingly white and most inmates are people of color, this amounts to a transfer of political power from people of color to white folks. (Not to mention a transfer of resources from New York City to the rural upstate counties, since population figures are used in a whole range of state and federal aid calculations). Peter Wagner at Prisoners of the Census has written extensively on this topic if anyone wants to find out more.

    Now for a shameless plug: In 2005 Solidarity’s magazine Against the Current ran an article on the bigger question of mass incarceration and its political and economic roots. Last summer the Boston Review ran an article “Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?” by Glen Loury, a controversial African American economist (initially a high profile conservative who went through a personal transformation after being arrested for cocaine possession and now leans progressive). Loury came to essentially the same political conclusions as the article in ATC. Maybe we should get him a subscription?

  2. dianne Avatar

    In a “democracy” they fix the vote beforehand–including making election registration difficult. Kate Stacy mentions how felons are disenfranchised by not being able to vote after their sentence is completed, or thinking they can’t get their voting rights back. But why are they taken away in the first place?

    I was surprised to learn many other countries, including Canada, don’t disenfranchise prisoners. That makes a lot of sense if you want prisoners to be part of the community!