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October 10, 2012

Disenfranchisement News

Virginia: McDonnell Fulfills Promise to Restore Voting Rights, but Efforts Not Enough

Utah: Overview of Utah's Felony Disenfranchisement Laws

Florida: Changes in Florida's Disenfranchisement Laws Harm Voters

National: NAACP Launches Public Awareness Campaign of Voter Disenfranchisement
New Analysis Highlights Institutional Effect in Felony Disenfranchisement


McDonnell Fulfills Promise to Restore Voting Rights, but Efforts Not Enough

The Washington Post reports that Governor Robert McDonnell is keeping pace with his promise to make the restoration of voting rights to Virginians a priority. Since announcing a streamlined, more efficient program in May of 2010, McDonnell has restored rights to more than 3,800 individuals. Virginia is one of four states where the power to restore voting rights rests solely with the governor, with a waiting period between two to five years. But with 350,000 Virginians unable to vote due to a felony conviction, and a disenfranchisement rate of over 20% among African Americans in the state, Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law believes that the state “can and should go further.”

In response to the findings, The Washington Post editorial board notes that despite Governor McDonnell’s efforts, by the time he leaves office in early 2014, the number of disenfranchised individuals will probably have grown by at least 20,000. The editorial board accuses McDonnell of “tinkering with the numbers” rather than undertaking the long overdue steps towards reforming the “archaic, profoundly undemocratic system,” such as passing legislation that would allow for automatic restoration of voting rights.

Overview of Utah's Felony Disenfranchisement Laws

The Salt Lake Tribune provides an overview of voter disenfranchisement in the state of Utah. The state had been one of only four that allowed incarcerated individuals to vote, but in 1998 an amendment to the state constitution was approved that permitted voting only for individuals who had completed their sentence, or were on probation or parole. The state reinstates the right to vote automatically, and individuals with a felony record may hold elected office after 10 years, or once all felony convictions are expunged. In 2006, the legislature clarified the law to apply the same conditions to individuals convicted of a felony in other states.

Changes in Florida's Disenfranchisement Laws Harm Voters

In The Huffington Post, Christiana Lilly describes how the administration of Governor Rick Scott has reversed the reforms of former Governor Charlie Crist in Florida. In April of 2007, Governor Crist enacted a policy that allowed individuals with a Level I (burglary, DUI) felony conviction to have their rights automatically restored, and those with a Level II (aggravated battery, kidnapping) or Level III (murder, sexual assault) conviction to be eligible for a review process to have their voting rights restored. Governor Scott’s administration has reversed the reforms, and added a waiting period ranging from five to seven years after the completion of a sentence, supervision, or probation. In addition to making the application process tougher, significantly fewer applications have been approved under the Scott administration: while 153,928 individuals had their voting rights restored over Crist's four-year term, only 255 applications have been approved nearly two years into Scott's tenure.

NAACP Launches Public Awareness Campaign of Voter Disenfranchisement

The Miami Herald reports that the NAACP recently gathered at the Florida Capitol to launch a national campaign against policies that withhold voting rights from people with a felony conviction. While the event focused on Governor Rick Scott’s recent revision of a policy enacted under former Governor Crist, which allowed for automatic restoration of voting rights for some individuals, the campaign will be national in scope. The NAACP will be placing billboards across the country with pictures of individuals with a felony conviction who have been denied the right to vote, to bring greater public awareness to the issue and urge lawmakers in states like Florida, Virginia, Iowa and Kentucky to reconsider such policies.

New Analysis Highlights Institutional Effect in Felony Disenfranchisement

Brian Schaefer and Peter Kraska address “Felon Disenfranchisement: The Judiciary’s Role in Renegotiating Racial Divisions,” in the Race and Justice Journal. They contend that despite disenfranchisement laws having been ‘‘whitewashed’’ in order to eliminate any indication of racially motivated practices, the federal court system plays a role in perpetuating and maintaining the ethnoracial divisions in society through the validation and rationalization of felon disenfranchisement laws. They examine opinions and dissents of judicial decisions regarding felon disenfranchisement, situated within a historical context, which they find to provide empirical evidence that even though white hegemony shifts and changes shape over time, it has not altered fundamentally.

Issue Area(s): Felony Disenfranchisement, Collateral Consequences