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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Swing States Impacted By Felon Disenfranchisement

Right to Vote: Campaign to End Felony Disenfranchisement has a nifty rollover map that gives an indication of how effective laws that prevent people convicted of felonies from voting are in helping to keep Republicans in office. The figures below, based on the map, show the percentage and raw number of African American citizens who have been disenfranchised in some key “swing” states:
FL 16% or 256,392
VA 16.1% or 161,559
NJ 9.2% or 78,920
MO 7.2% or 30,471
WI 10.8% or 20,805
NV 17.1% or 17,970
AZ 12.9% or 17,700
IA – 24.9%, or 11,192
NM 24.7% or 9,128
Of course there is no guarantee that once enfranchised, these citizens would turn out at the polls in percentages comparable to those who have no convictions. Yet the fact that African Americans vote nearly 9 to 1 Democratic, as well as simple justice, ought to make repeal and liberalization of felon disenfranchisement laws a priority for progressives. Felony convictions account for two-thirds of the “under registration” of African American males, who are also about one-third of all citizens disenfranchised because of criminal records.
If the above figures seem small, remember that Bush won FL in 2000 by 930 votes, New Mexico in 2004 by about 6,000 votes and Iowa by 10,100. Many congressional and statewide races were also decided by smaller margins.
Take away the felon disenfranchisement laws, and even the South doesn’t look quite so forbidding for Democrats. Consider the figures below on African American voter disenfranchisement:
FL (see above)
VA (see above)
AL 14% or 111,755
GA 10.3% or 161,685
MS 11.3% or 76,106
KY 17.4% or 35,955
The US Supreme Court has refused to hear a lawsuit to overturn Florida’s disenfranchisement law. But the state Legs and the U.S. Congress are free to repeal and modify such laws. At present, five states permanently disenfranchise convicted felons: AL, FL, IA, KY and VA, and many other states have restrictive laws on the books. Only Maine, Vermont and Puerto Rico have no voting restrictions on those convicted of felonies. Last year, Iowa Governor Vilsack issued an executive clemency order enfranchising those who had served their time. Nebraska lifted its permanent disenfranchisement law last year and the Rhode Island legislature has put it on the ballot. Liberalization measures are being considered in several other states.