Archive for Friday, September 22, 2000

Convictions keep black men from voting

September 22, 2000

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— On Election Day, nearly 1.4 million voting-age black men more than one in eight will be ineligible to cast ballots because of state laws that strip felons of the right to vote.

"Here we are, 50 years after the beginning of the civil rights movement, and we actually have an increasing number of African-Americans who are disenfranchised each year," said Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project, which analyzed 1996 Justice Department statistics along with Human Rights Watch.

Disenfranchised black males account for 35 percent of all Americans now barred from voting because of felony convictions. Two percent of all Americans, or 3.9 million, have lost the right to vote, compared with 13 percent of adult black men.

State laws governing voter eligibility vary. Nine states impose a lifetime voting ban on convicted felons. In 32 states, felons can vote after serving their sentence and completing parole. Four states Massachusetts, Maine, Utah and Vermont have no prohibition and allow prisoners to vote, although Massachusetts voters will act on a ballot measure in November that would strip prisoners of voting rights.

Six other states impose restrictions based on a felon's prior record or parole status.

Civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging Florida's lifetime ban. The ban is unconstitutional because its disproportionate effect on blacks makes the state law discriminatory, the lawsuit said.

Allen Beck of the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics declined to assess the accuracy of the 13 percent estimate, but Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, said he believes the figure is accurate. Beck said that, based on current rates of incarceration, 28.5 percent of black males will likely serve time in a state or federal prison for a felony conviction, a rate seven times that for white males.

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