Addressing the Real Source of Voter Disenfranchisement

voter_disenfranchisementby James A. Bacon

While partisans of a particular political party, which shall go unnamed, works itself into a righteous wrath over Voter Identification laws that supposedly threaten to bring back the Jim Crow era, they have been less vocal about the very tangible disenfranchisement of African-Americans created by the denial of voting rights to people with felony convictions. Perhaps it’s too embarrassing to bring up the issue because it was that very same party, in its pre-Civil Rights incarnation as the party of Southern segregation, that enacted those laws in the first place.

But consider: Of Virginia’s 6.4 million citizens of voting-age population, 450,000 have been disenfranchised by their felony status. The laws disproportionately affect black citizens. In 2010, 20% of the state’s voting-age African-American population could not vote as a result of a felony conviction, according to Helen A. Gibson, a University of Virginia civil rights historian, writing in the current edition of The Virginia News Letter.

In “Felons and the Right to Vote in Virginia: a Historical Overview,” Gibson walks through the history of what she calls “felon disenfranchisement” in Virginia in ante-bellum Virginia, the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights era. “Despite recent steps toward reform,” she writes, “Virginia continues to struggle with its legacy of one of the highest disenfranchisement rates in the country.”

But the state has made progress in recent years. Former Governor Mark Warner streamlined the application for non-violent offenders to get their voting rights restored, reducing the period they had to wait before petitioning to get their rights restored. Former Governor Bob McDonnell issued an executive order making 350,000 Virginians convicted of non-violent felonies eligible to have their voting rights restored without the three-year waiting period. Most recently, Governor Terry McAuliffe has reduced the waiting time for restoring voting rights to those convicted of violent felonies and petitioned to have drug offenses removed from violent felonies. (Seventy-two percent of Virginians incarcerated for drug offenses are African-American.) The administrative systems for restoring voting rights has not kept pace with these gubernatorial actions, so voting-right restoration lags.

Here’s what I’d like to know: How many people have been unable to vote in Virginia due to Voter ID disenfranchisement compared to how many have been unable to vote compared to felony disenfranchisement? Maybe two or three hundred compared to two or three hundred thousand? Would it be asking too much to have the rhetoric of outrage directed at the source of greatest injustice?

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10 responses to “Addressing the Real Source of Voter Disenfranchisement

  1. If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website here [ ] and our congressional testimony here:

  2. I think anyone who purposely confuses the principal parties during Jim Crow – by their labels and not their actual politics is not entirely honest about the trut.

    The GOP and DEMs did swap names but the underlying politics is what it always was in terms of supporting the right to vote.

    and I agree with RogerCLegg.

    I’d not restore voting rights to any public official who abused his/her office. If you are convicted of felonies you committed as an elected person – then that’s it.

    In fact, I think that might do more to get the elected to pay attention to ethics in general than any separate rule!

    But I still believe that the ability to get registered and vote – should be super easy and convenient. Put a table up at WalMart.. seek out the voters where they will most often be found.

    A person who votes – typically take the rest of their life responsibilities more seriously also. I’ve watched Moms and Dads – wearing work gear – bring their kids to the precinct to watch their Moms/Dads vote and I see kids growing up waiting until they are old enough register and vote.

    and I keep saying – if they can track you down and force you to pay taxes – they can track you done and provide a just-as-easy method to vote.

    We have too many elected folks running around who got elected in gerrymandered districts and/or rely on voter suppression to keep their offices.

  3. A reasonable argument can be made that, after a person has served his or her sentence(s), voting rights should be restored. I know both Rs & Ds who support this result. This includes my lunatic Delegate Kathleen Murphy. But Murphy, at the very same time, opposes restoring the right to bear arms in some situations. Either we believe in restoring civil rights to convicts who have served their sentence or we don’t. Thank goodness for legislators from RoVA.

    • Convicted felons of violent crimes should not have guns in my view.

      and convicted felons of public office should never be able to vote again in my view for violating the sacred duties of elected office.

      we need to hammer those who get elected then blow off ethics.

      if we can’t stop the influence money – we need to have a zero tolerance on behaviors.

      Every time I read about some back door thing going on with the Tobacco Commission or Dominion or some other sleazy tactic – it makes me think the GA in Richmond is a lot like organized crime.

    • “But Murphy, at the very same time, opposes restoring the right to bear arms in some situations.”

      My God, it’s almost as if people with a history of violence towards others shouldn’t be given access to weapons that make it exponentially easier for those violent incidences to turn deadly. It’s almost as if the constructive act of voting and the destructive act of using a firearm aren’t the same.

      But you’re right, I’m sure spousal abusers and armed robbers are exactly who the founders had in mind when they wrote “A well regulated militia.”

  4. “While partisans of a particular political party, which shall go unnamed…have been less vocal about the very tangible disenfranchisement…”

    “Governor Mark Warner… Governor Terry McAuliffe…”

    LOL wut?

    Their politicians at the highest executive level in the state are already making moves on this subject, what is more politically vocal than that?

  5. Also, we need to stop this triple exile of people who commit felonies:

    1) We physically exile them away from society and don’t allow them to vote.
    2) Once they’re released we continue the exile by not allowing them to vote.
    3) We then allow any job opening from trash collector to Secret Service to ask the applicant if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

    You do your time, you get your right to vote back the second you walk out the door and if a job is that curious about your criminal history let them run their own background check.

  6. “Here’s what I’d like to know: How many people have been unable to vote in Virginia due to Voter ID disenfranchisement compared to how many have been unable to vote compared to felony disenfranchisement? Maybe two or three hundred compared to two or three hundred thousand? Would it be asking too much to have the rhetoric of outrage directed at the source of greatest injustice?”

    According to Virginia State Boards of Elections-there was not a single voter who was not able to vote because of photo Id issues.

    • Here’s an idea – instead of saying people have not been denied the vote – how about a poll to see who has been discouraged..???

      or how about this:

      people who are not registered to vote get a 10% rebate on their taxes if they register and another 10% if they vote?

      think that would change the dynamic from whether photo-id or other things discourage people to how many were actually encourage to take whatever steps needed – to actually vote?

      What is more appropriate actually tying the taxes you pay to govt – with the right to vote? You know.. like when you own stock and can vote?


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