The First Vote

1867 drawing of newly-freed black men voting. Women would not get the vote until 1920. Near-total resistance to blacks voting went on in some areas well into the 1960s. In some states, it appears to persist to this day.

A clutch of vital swing states (run by Republicans) are under the microscope for the efforts they are making to ensure it is so hard as to almost be impossible for hundreds of thousands of EX prisoners to vote in the Presidential election.

Needless to say, the vast majority of these ex inmates are black. They’re likely to favour a black President. You do the math …

Just another example why “the greatest democracy in the world” is actually a democracy basket case.

As UPI report from Washington, civil rights activists stepped up efforts this week to allow more than 1.5 million voting-eligible felons in Florida — and millions more nationwide — access to elections, urging that laws they see as discriminatory need to be changed.

“Keep in mind that two-thirds are not in a prison cell right now,” said Hilary O. Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Nearly 6 million – 6 million, overwhelmingly poor, overwhelmingly black – American felons have no voting rights, says the Sentencing Project, a non-profit group that works on criminal justice reform issues. Florida leads the nation with the highest rate per capita of disenfranchised felons.

In swing states like Florida and Virginia, another state with a large number of disenfranchised felons, those votes could well make the difference in close elections. The deadline to register for the November election is Tuesday in Florida and Oct. 15 in Virginia.

Advocates say they worry the laws are part of larger voter suppression efforts, some designed to keep minorities from casting ballots this fall.

The NAACP launched a national campaign against felon disenfranchisement Tuesday in Tallahassee, Fla. The group is seeking changes in laws that keep felons from voting.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who sits on the state’s executive clemency board, calls the practice fair to law-abiding citizens and victims of crime.

“It is reasonable to ask felons to apply to have their rights restored and to demonstrate rehabilitation by living crime-free during a waiting period after the completion of their sentences,” said an official in Bondi’s office.

But laws governing the restoration of voting rights vary by state, making this an uneven playing field at best. Most U.S. states restore felons’ voting rights automatically after completion of their prison term, parole or probation. Several states allow prisoners with misdemeanor convictions to cast absentee ballots.

But some states with right-wing governors have been rolling back voting rights for felons.

Florida, under Republican Gov. Rick Scott, and Virginia, under Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, are among 12 states — including Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming — where felon voting rights may be permanently withheld.

“The problem is the Florida Constitution,” said Randy Berg, the executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, a public interest law firm in Miami. He cited a provision added in 1865 that hasn’t been repealed.

“Legislators refuse to change the rules on clemency,” Berg said.

Scott’s administration rescinded a more liberal policy for felons in March 2011. Florida now requires felons to wait 5-7 years before they can apply for restoration of civil rights. So much for paying your debt to society.

In a statement from Scott’s office, ex-felons must demonstrate “willingness to request to have their rights restored.”

In 2011, 13,000 ex-felons applied for civil rights restoration.

But since Scott’s administration amended the law, fewer than 300 ex-felons have voting rights restored.

Under the earlier policy introduced in 2007 by Gov. Charlie Crist, who was then also a Republican, 155,000 ex-felons had their voting rights restored.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded a law in 2011 to automatically restore voter rights, which was instituted in 2005 by former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who is now the U.S. secretary of Agriculture.

The danger with executive clemency law is reflected in changes depending on administration.

In Virginia, Shelton said, “If the governor wasn’t so moved, (the) people’s rights could not be restored.”

Restore the right to vote

Natural justice surely demands that EX felons should have their civil rights restored.

Thirty-one percent of all voting-age African-American men in Virginia are disenfranchised because of felony records, Shelton said.

Let’s just run that fact again. Thirty-one per cent of all black men in Virginia cannot vote.

Nearly one in three. So much for the land of the free.

Disenfranchisement after criminal conviction remains the most significant barrier to voting rights.  Nationally, 5.3 million American citizens are not allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction – 4 million of whom live, work, and raise families in their communities.

Two states — Vermont and Maine — don’t disenfranchise felons. Prisoners registered to vote in Vermont, regardless of where they are incarcerated, may submit absentee ballots.

An official in the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office called voting part of the restorative process. Community educators conduct voter registration drives in prisons to ensure that prisoners can participate in elections.

Neither Vermont nor Maine maintain records on how many prisoners register to vote because many use addresses from prior to incarceration.

The NAACP, in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, provides former felons with information upon release on how to regain voting rights. Additionally, the organization maintains prison units in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri for providing absentee ballots.

One can only hope at least some of those disenfranchised by these outrageous tactics can have their rights restored promptly, but time is probably against them. They will stand by and watch the process take place without them.

Rehabilitation? Don’t make me laugh. We are creating a permanent black underclass in parts of America. Don’t be surprised when they bite back. It won’t be pretty.

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Comments
  1. Richard Ember says:

    All your puffing reminded me to re-register Jamey in time for tomorrow’s deadline. Thanks. Another vote for Romney secured.

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  2. Hey Yolly, have you been following the Venezuelan election? I’m interested on your views (if any?)

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  3. As a victim of violent crime and a person that works in the system as a volunteer in a program called Victim Impact, there are always two sides. Always.

    I agree as a nation it is important we do not disenfranchise forever any citizen that serves their time. But this includes all their time, prison and parole. I have always been appalled by those states that allow voting from prison.

    Restoration of all Rights, including voting rights should not be a matter of special application. Those Red States that are trying to strip citizens simply because of past acts are wrong. However, it is also wrong to ignore criminal acts and simply hand offenders a ballot.

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    • I respect your life history Val, but I cannot agree. In my opinion, when released from imprisonment what matters is rehabilitation to prevent re-offending and become a useful member of society again. That includes, for me, if that person has either completed their sentence or been released on license, then they should play their full role in their civic duties.

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      • I think that is what I said Stephen. Restoration of their Civil Rights upon completion of their sentence is an important step. But not before.

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        • The only area where I suspect we might differ is when a person is released on license/parole, Val. In my opinion they should start re-engaging with their civic duties when the jail front door clang behind them and they are on the street again …

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          • I have a difficult time with this one. I am of two minds, on the one hand my more pragmatic self tends to agree and when I take my emotions out in most cases I would say yes. On the other hand I say there are degrees of crimes, non-violent and violent, petty and not petty. I have such a difficult time extracting myself from this one. Parole doesn’t always mean rehabilitation, doesn’t always mean restoration.

            So my pragmatic self, says yes you are likely right. My personal emotional engaged self, well she says it depends.

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            • I do understand your difficulty Val, and I am very grateful for you taking the time to debate the matter thoroughly.

              I think we need to remember that those convicted of violent crime are not routinely paroled until they have served a significant sentence. In the case of a life sentence that does not mean life (such as a 10 years to life sentence) it is not generally understood that the criminal concerned is never completely free ever again. Release on license or parole means just that – they are always on a watch list.

              Should those people never be allowed to vote again, as is the case in some states? Surely not. In summary, I guess I am really saying that I think this is a matter that requires much more serious thought, and urgently.

              It cannot be right, for example, in a crucial swing state like Virginia, that nearly a third of adult black males are legally prevented from voting …

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              • Well, my most pragmatic self says voting rights are not a State issue but a Constitutional guarantee. This should never be left to the individual states to determine or control and this is our problem today. We have become so mired in States Rights and our hands off attitude we are afraid to bring the hammer down on these GOP Governors who would strip rights, be they Civil or Voting from any and all who do not look like they fall into the very narrow definition of ‘citizen servant’.

                So here is what my pragmatic self would say on this issue:

                1. Serve the time – voting rights restored immediately upon release (federal mandate)
                2. No voting while in prison (federal mandate)
                3. No voting restoration ever for Treason
                4. Voting rights restored when released to parole after 6 months good behavior (federal mandate)

                I simply believe we have to take the voting rules out of the states hands.

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                • I agree – if ever anything was a federal issue it is surely this.

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                  • jvdix says:

                    Senator Kirsten Gillibrand would agree this should be a federal issue, which is why she has introduced the Voter Empowerment Act into the Senate. “The Voter Empowerment Act would expand access to voting by modernizing the voter registration process, allowing online and same-day registration around the country. This bill would make sure that provisional ballots are available and are counted at all polling locations and would restore integrity to our voting process by setting standards for voting machines, which require voters to receive confirmation of their vote so they can be assured the vote they cast was in fact counted. And it would also ensure that the votes of our youth and those living or serving in the military overseas are counted.” Apparently the Act does not address ex-felons, but it would provide some good Federal standards for administering elections, and hence some uniformity.

                    Of course introducing an Act means little if it is going to languish in committee. So the Senator has also joined with the Democratic Governors Association to create a record of citizen support for the Act. Names can be added at http://action.kirstengillibrand.com/t/11999/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=543.

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