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In Alabama, newly re-enfranchised black voters helped push Doug Jones to victory
Alabama’s large black turnout in the state’s recent U.S. Senate special election has garnered national media attention for pushing Democratic candidate Doug Jones to an unexpected victory. The strategic effort by various entities to turnout black voters included targeting newly re-enfranchised individuals with felony convictions, according to The Atlantic.
In May, Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill that established for the first time a definitive list of crimes that would result in a loss of voting rights, opening up the ballot to thousands of Alabamians with felony convictions whose crimes did not fall on the list. After the law passed, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow of The Ordinary People Society estimates that his group registered between five and ten thousand people with felony convictions. In the final weeks before the election, The Ordinary People Society also canvassed jails where people without felony convictions have the right to vote absentee.
In direct response to The Ordinary People Society’s activism, Judge Roy Moore tweeted, “Democrat operatives in Alabama are REGISTERING THOUSANDS OF FELONS all across the state in an effort to swing the US Senate election to Doug Jones!”
Criminal justice advocates file amicus brief in Louisiana in support of restoring voting rights
The Sentencing Project, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an amicus brief in a Louisiana appellate court in support of plaintiffs challenging Louisiana’s felony disenfranchisement law. More than 71,000 Louisianans under probation or parole supervision are prohibited from voting, disproportionately harming black Louisianans. “The vast majority of these people are living in the community, yet are still treated as ‘second class citizens’ due to the denial of this fundamental right of citizenship,” said Marc Mauer, Executive Director at The Sentencing Project.
The amicus brief provides historical context for the racial discrimination inherent in felony disfranchisement laws, including Louisiana’s, and explains the present-day impact of such laws, on the black community in Louisiana, particularly.
Louisiana has the country’s highest incarceration rate. Compounding this reality, from arrest to incarceration, black Louisianans are disproportionately represented at every level of the state’s criminal justice system. Because of these racial disparities, African Americans, who account for 32% of the state population, make up 63% of individuals who have lost their voting rights through the state’s disenfranchisement law.
“After the Civil War, Louisiana and other states passed felony disenfranchisement laws, alongside voter qualifications that are now illegal like literacy tests, poll taxes, and lengthy residency requirements, with an intent to exclude black and other people from the political process,” said Leah Aden, senior counsel at LDF. “The successor felony disenfranchisement laws that legislatures in Louisiana and elsewhere adopted, continue—whether in design or effect—to have a disproportionate impact on black Louisianans’ ability to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”
New Jersey lawmakers and advocates say, “We are 1844 No More!”
The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) released a new report entitled, We are 1844 No More: Let us Vote, highlighting the discriminatory origins of the state’s felony disenfranchisement law and calling for the state to restore voting rights to the nearly 100,000 people disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. The title of the report comes from the fact that New Jersey first denied the right to vote to people with criminal convictions in 1844—the same year it adopted a constitution that restricted voting to white men only. “Nearly 175 years later, though legal slavery is abolished, New Jersey continues to deny voting rights to people with criminal convictions, a practice that disproportionately impacts Black New Jerseyans,” said Scott Novakowski, Associate Counsel at NJISJ and primary author of the report. “Consistent with the racist era in which it was conceived, New Jersey’s law has a devastating impact on Black political power.
In conjunction with the release of the report, NJISJ held a press call where State Senators Ronald Rice and Sandra Cunningham announced plans to introduce legislation to restore voting rights to people with criminal convictions.
“In the new year I will introduce a bill to restore voting rights to people on parole, probation, and those in prison. New Jersey has an opportunity to be a national leader on this important issue of racial justice,” said Senator Rice. “I call on Governor-elect Phil Murphy and my fellow legislators to join me when I say, ‘We are 1844 no more.’ And I ask for their support of my bill to sever the antidemocratic link between the right to vote and the criminal justice system.”
Imposed fines and fees block people with felony convictions from voting
Nine states have laws that explicitly state that a person’s voting rights will be revoked until all legal financial obligations (LFO) arising from their felony conviction are paid, according to a report by the People’s Action Institute, Disenfranchised by Debt. Another 21 states indirectly disenfranchise voters with outstanding legal fees by requiring that a person’s parole and/or probation be completed. However in some states, probation is not complete until all LFOs are paid. Additionally, in at least eight states, failure to pay LFOs can prohibit individuals with even misdemeanors from voting.
Due to racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system, African American communities are disproportionately impactedby these laws. In addition, most of the states with laws that directly revoke voting rights until LFOs are paid are located in the South—where 55% of African Americans reside.
It is difficult to assess the impact of LFOs on a national level because many jurisdictions are involved and the practice of revoking voting rights varies by state, according to Dr. Alexes Harris, professor of sociology at the University of Washington and author of “A Pound of Flesh: Monetary Sanctions as Punishment for the Poor.” In Washington state, for example, Dr. Harris found that individuals may vote as long as their LFO account is in good standing (although many impacted individuals were not aware of this policy and assumed they could not vote). But if a person misses three LFO payments in a 12-month period, the local court clerk or the victim of the crime can ask the prosecutor to petition the court to revoke the individual’s voting rights.