Still locked out of the ballot box
An estimated 4.6 million Americans are still unable to vote due to felony records despite reforms
Despite eight states reforming their laws regarding felony disenfranchisement since 2020, two percent of the voting-age population will be unable to vote this election cycle, according to a new report from The Sentencing Project. Key findings include:
- One in 19 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.5 times greater than that of non-African Americans.
- More than one in 10 African American adults is disenfranchised in eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.
- The report conservatively estimates that at least 506,000 Latinx Americans or – or 1.7 percent of the voting eligible population – are disenfranchised.
- Approximately 1,000,000 women are disenfranchised or over one-fifth of the total disenfranchised population.
On Tuesday, The Sentencing Project held a virtual press briefing to discuss the release of their new report, “Locked Out 2022: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights Due to a Felony Conviction.” Speakers discussed findings of the report, trends in felony disenfranchisement and how these findings will impact the upcoming midterms.
The new report, updates and expands on the 2020 report, “Locked Out 2020: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights Due to a Felony Conviction,” done by the Sentencing Project.
“It’s gotten much harder to estimate the number of people and the rates of those disenfranchised because each of these policies is quite a bit more nuanced than it has been in the past so we present these estimates with some humility,” Chris Uggen, lead author of the report said.
Terrible racial disparities remain because of this issue. According to the study, about 5.3 percent of the Black voting age population remains disenfranchised and 1.7 percent of Latinx population remains disenfranchised.
Avalon Betts-Gaston, project manager for the Illinois Alliance for Reentry and Justice, spoke virtually at the press conference about her experience of being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to a federal prison for four years and how voting affected her after her sentencing.
“Prior to that time I had been very active as a voter, I was making sure I was researching candidates,” Betts-Gaston said. She also describes coming from a family who was always involved and informed voters and how her grandfather made voting a big production in her family.
“To lose that voice and that ability to parent my children was devastating to me,” Betts-Gaston said.
This election year, there has been some concern about the impact of voting bans on people with felony convictions.
“In reporting this issue one of my concerns is in the two weeks leading up to the election this concern or talk about ineligible voting can deter people from exercising their rights,” Uggen said.
“So I think it’s very important to tell the whole story and explain that indeed people do have the right even when they may face some intimidation. We have to let people know in states where you are indeed eligible, that you are eligible.”
There have also been concerns about what is next for voting in specific states, such as Florida. In Tuesday’s press briefing, a question was asked about if the voter suppression tactics are a deterrent for the formerly incarcerated community, specifically in Florida.
“Because Florida is the current center of attention with regards to this issue, it is having that chilling effect on other states, especially in southern states,” Betts-Gaston said.
Betts-Gaston discussed how people shouldn’t forget about the people who have been prosecuted for this issue and serving time for voting. She describes it as “sending a clear message.”
“This is a national intimidation in my opinion, a national intimidation effort for those with arresting conviction records,” Betts-Gaston said.
Betts-Gaston said, “ When society was no longer able to just outright ban [people of color] from voting, they came up with creative ways to do that and that was through the criminal punishment system.”
In addition to the report, the speakers expressed what needs to be done in order to move forward and combat this issue.
“We need to get beyond the language of saying that somehow a felony disenfranchisement should be part of the punishment, we need to have that conversation,” Betts-Gaston said.
“It does not serve any societal benefit. For that reason we should not be doing it. We should not have to prove that we paid our debt to society. We should not have to do any of those things, our vote and voice should never be taken from us and that is where I’m moving and that is the direction our country must head into because we have to start having real conversations.”
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Still locked out of the ballot box
An estimated 4.6 million Americans are still unable to vote due to felony records despite reforms. This includes more than one in 10 Black adults in eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.