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Triple-Decker Disenfranchisement: First-Person Accounts of Losing the Right to Vote Among Poor, Homeless Americans with a Felony Conviction

November 01, 2004
Matthew Cardinale
Based on in-depth interviews with 50 respondents, this study provides insight into the way persons with felony convictions view disenfranchisement and electoral politics, and will also allow persons with felony convictions to express, in their own words, how losing the right to vote has impacted their lives

An estimated 5 million Americans are currently legally disenfranchised from voting because laws in their state take away their eligibility to vote due to a current or prior felony conviction.

Each state sets its own laws regarding felony disenfranchisement, with all but two states, Maine and Vermont, having some form of disenfranchisement. State policies range from those which disenfranchise people with a felony conviction for life to those which allow persons who are not incarcerated or have completed probation or parole to vote. California’s law prohibits persons in prison or on parole from voting, but allows persons who have completed parole as well as those on probation to vote. Nationwide, the majority (73%) of individuals who are disenfranchised are not currently incarcerated.

This study was undertaken in order to learn more about how persons with a felony conviction respond to disenfranchisement policies. There has been critical research in the past decade that has provided an understanding of the prevalence of disenfranchisement policies as well as enhancing discussion of the legal philosophy underpinning these laws; however, there remains a void in the literature that quantifies the impact of disenfranchisement from an individual’s perspective.

The study is based on 50 in-depth interviews (n=50) with probationers, parolees, and formerly incarcerated persons in Los Angeles, California, with a current or prior felony conviction. The interviews were conducted during August and September 2004 at the Union Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter in Los Angeles’s downtown skid-row area. Participants received $10 for participating in an approximately 30 minute interview. Interviews were semi-structured, including open-ended and closed/structured questions.

To read the study, download the PDF below.

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