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News ::
Ex-Felons, the Right to Vote and Rev. Al Sharpton (english)
12 Jul 2003
Comments and study on the issue.
Due to current economic, political, cultural and social conditions a large number of African-American, Latino and White working class men and women find themselves in prison, on parole, on probation or somehow involved in the system.

In some cities such as Baltimore and St. Louis, a clear majority of black males are in the system. Because we have no constitutional right to vote in this country, the vast majority of these citizens have lost the right to vote.

What this does is hurt the chances of black, Latino and progressive candidates and bolsters the power of the Republican Party and out of step Democrats.

In most countries, and especially in Europe, every citizen can vote and even individuals in prison can vote. In the US however, once an individual is in the system he or she is never given the chance to rehabilitate or to actively participate in society and this has a very adverse effect in this country particularly in the ghettos and barrios of America.

Among the Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, only one of the candidates has fought for the constitutional right to vote, and that is the Rev. Al Sharpton. We should all keep this in mind when we go to the polls in the Democratic Primaries next year.

I have posted an article by Chris Uggen, U of Minnesota sociology professor on the subject.


MINNEAPOLIS/ST.PAUL--Allowing felons and ex-felons to vote might have given the Democratic Party majority control of the Senate from 1986 to the present and changed the outcome of two presidential elections, according to University of Minnesota sociologist Christopher Uggen and Northwestern University sociologist Jeff Manza in a recently published article in the American Sociological Review.

Almost all U.S. prisoners lose the right to vote, and in many states, so do those on probation and parole. In several states, ex-felons who have completed their sentences also lose that right. African Americans and poor or working-class whites are overrepresented among convicted felons, and these groups have traditionally voted for Democrats in elections. Uggen and Manza suggest that the rapid growth in the disenfranchisement of this group in recent years has provided a small, but clear, advantage to Republican candidates in recent elections.

"Disenfranchisement of prisoners alone is unlikely to alter elections," said Uggen. "But the likelihood increases when those supervised in the community are added, and it reaches a critical mass when ex-felons--approximately one-third of the disenfranchised population--are barred from voting."

The authors find that seven Senate elections might have been overturned had disenfranchised felons been allowed to participate: Virginia elections in 1978; Texas in 1978; Kentucky in both 1984 and 1998; Florida in 1988; Wyoming in 1988; and Georgia in 1992.

Although only seven of the 400 Senate elections since 1978 would likely have been altered had the disenfranchised voted, those elections would have been sufficient to shift the balance of power.

Had today's level of felon disenfranchisement existed in 1960, John F. Kennedy may have lost the presidency to Richard Nixon. Uggen and Manza estimate that Kennedy would have lost 224,000 votes, almost double the popular vote margin in the election.

In the hotly contested presidential election of 2000, the authors show that Al Gore would have secured a victory in both the popular vote and the Electoral College if only ex-felons had had the right to vote. There are more disenfranchised felons in Florida than in any other state. Uggen and Manza estimate that Gore's margin of victory in the popular vote in Florida would have risen to approximately 85,000 votes. If merely ex-felons had been allowed to vote, Gore would likely have secured at least 30,000 additional votes and easily overcome Bush's 537-vote margin. Therefore, Uggen and Manza argue, the election hinged on the narrower question of ex-felon disenfranchisement rather than voting restrictions on felons and those under supervision.

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