My good friend Jay posted a great article on an issue that's dear to my heart.
Our Democracy. Here's my take on the issue...
Voting is the very foundation of our society. Without the right of each and every one of us to vote, we lose the democracy that we all hold dear.
The entire basis of felon disenfranchisement laws is rooted in the Jim Crow laws that sprung up with the specific purpose of disenfranchising African Americans in the south after the 14th and 15th amendments gave them the unequivocal right to vote. When the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 it originally forbid felon disenfranchisement but that provision of law is so powerful that a deal was cut to remove it from the VRA, so that they could pass the rest of it with votes from some southern congressmen who knew the power of it to surpress the vote and refused to give that power up. It is the most insidious Jim Crow law left in the country!!!
Did you know that the law is different in every state? Federal law allows all US Citizens to vote regardless of felony status. For example, in Maine and Vermont the polling booths are brought into the prisons and EVERYONE votes!!! (Note the population of minorities in those states is pretty non-existent) In other states, the right to vote is never restored???? Some allow probationers but not parolees, some do it the opposite. In the majority of the Midwest (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvannia and Ohio... yes, Indiana and Ohio), our neighbors allow all people who aren't incarcerated to vote (what AB390 proposes in Wisconsin).
WE ARE BEHIND INDIANA AND OHIO ON THIS ISSUE....
That's just embarrassing....
The majority of the approximately 62,000 people who would get the right to vote live, work, go to school and raise families in our neighborhoods. They have been deemed by a court of law as safe to be released into society.
Consider these facts:
· More than 62,000 Wisconsin residents are disfranchised.
· The majority of Wisconsin’s disfranchised population is not in prison or jail, but lives in Wisconsin’s communities.
· One in nine African-American voters in Wisconsin is disfranchised, compared to one in fifty of all Wisconsin voters.
As a result, Wisconsin has the 11th highest rate of African-American disfranchisement in the United States. African Americans comprise 39% of the disfranchised population, even though they comprise only 5% of the voting age population.
 Uggen, Christopher Jeff Manza and, Locked Out: Felon Disfranchisement and American Democracy, Oxford University Press (2006), at Table A3.4.
Most importantly, they PAY TAXES to the local, state and federal governments, and yet,
DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE FOR THE PEOPLE WHO SPEND THEIR MONEY...
I could have sworn we fought a revolution on the slogan
"NO Taxation without Representation"
It is the very foundation of our society that one person should get one vote.
Not one good person-one vote (how many of you would qualify under that standard?).
Not one white person-one vote.
Not even one man-one vote, anymore...
One person - One vote
Wisconsin is WAY behind the eight ball on this issue and it's time that we reinstate fairness into our elections. States all around the country like Florida, Texas, Iowa, Maryland, Rhode Island and many others have reinstated felons to the voting roles in the last few years alone! We have been in a vacuum in Wisconsin and now's the time to open it up our eyes and demand a fair election. Even Republicans like Jack Kemp, Bob Barr and Florida Governor Charlie Crist all support felon reenfranchisement movements around the country. They realize that for the act of voting to be a crime in the United States is against every principle we hold dear. To use that right as a punishment or to hold a person's vote hostage to a completely unrelated act of a citizen is counter to the very principle of democracy itself.
Consider these facts:
· Wisconsin is one of twenty U.S. states that bars citizens from voting until completion of incarceration, probation and parole.
· Wisconsin has more restrictive felony disfranchisement laws than 20 other states.
· Since 1997, 18 states have made progressive changes to their felony disfranchisement laws, including neighboring Iowa.
Call your Wisconsin state legislator and ask them to sign on to AB 390. Call your State Senator and tell them you support the reenfranchisement of all people in Wisconsin upon release into the community.
The people of Wisconsin can DEMAND this and we won't have a truly fair democracy until we do!
The following is reprinted from the ACLU website Democracy's Ghosts. It has all the direct references to studies you could want.... www.democracysghosts.org
Why Should Felons Vote?
This year, more than 600,000 people will be released from prison, returning to their families and their communities, many of them intent on starting over and building a better life.
These people face many challenges in reentering the world outside the prison walls – getting a job, finding a place to live, staying out of trouble, staying away from drugs. At first, losing the right to vote seems a long way down the list of things that are important.
But as Democracy’s Ghosts shows, being an active, participating member of the community helps with rehabilitation. It helps the community by strengthening its voting base. And history shows that there’s an inequality to disfranchisement, as many of the original Jim Crow laws were intended to disfranchise African Americans, whose voter base in some states are still affected by those laws today.
Excluding ex-felons from the polls is costly, too. In states like Florida, there’s an expensive layer of bureaucracy in place just to deal with the rights restoration process.
There are those who argue that people with felony convictions shouldn't be allowed to vote because they are untrustworthy in character, raising a concern about how these people would vote. But in that case, would we exclude admitted racists or, taking that argument even further, perhaps people who don't know enough about politics?
Others argue that ex-felons would somehow vote for a pro-crime agenda. It's difficult to imagine how this would happen, and in fact it hasn't happened in states or even countries where felons can vote. In fact, disfranchisement policies are in sharp conflict with the goal of promoting public safety. A study in Minnesota showed that felons who voted in the previous biennial election had a far lower risk of committing another crime than non-voting felons, and that this effect holds net of age, race and criminal history. So, to use the words of evangelist Chuck Colson, opening up our democracy is in society’s “enlightened self-interest.”
Source: Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, Voting and Subsequent Crime and Arrest: Evidence from a Community Sample, 36 Col. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 193 (2004-2005).
For most of us, it seems intuitively obvious that felony disfranchisement works against efforts to rehabilitate people exiting the prison system, and therefore increases the likelihood of recidivism. The goal for people who have been deemed fit to return to society is to reintegrate them. Holding them at arm’s length, telling them their voice is not valued, is counter-intuitive.
Christopher Uggen, of the University of Minnesota, was co-author of a study exploring the relationship of voting to subsequent crime and arrest: "We first encountered the possibility that civic reintegration may be connected to motivations for desistance in a series of in-depth interviews we conducted with convicted felons in Minnesota. Those we interviewed often spoke passionately about the stigma of a felony conviction and told us that losing the right to vote, in particular, was a powerful symbol of their status as 'outsiders.'"
All the former felons we interviewed for Democracy’s Ghosts expressed similar sentiments. Sam Bonner, of St. Petersburg, Florida told us: "It’s pretty devastating to think that…I want to reintegrate, I want to give back to the community, I want to be a good member of society, I want to actually contribute towards helping other people not take the same path I have, and yet, my efforts have been thwarted at every, every step of the way."
Correctional associations and officials, as well as law enforcement officials, agree that voting may aid rehabilitation. One group of law enforcement officials wrote in a federal court brief that "these laws may...undermine the rehabilitative aims of incarceration and parole...to the extent that disfranchisement distances the person from the community and serves no educational function...it weakens the impact of rehabilitative and correctional programs and programs upon the individual's reintegration as a law-abiding member of the correctional facility or community." And, Maine's Dept. of Corrections' Chief Advocate has said that voting allows inmates to make "personal choices in who will be representing them, their families, their communities...this serves to keep the individual involved in current affairs and connected to the community of his or her family during their sentence." The American Correctional Association also believes that once all terms of an individual's sentence have been completed, he or she should be able to vote. Statistics seem to bear out the notion that felony disfranchisement works against rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Uggen adds: “We do not know whether voting causes reduced crime, but we find a strong correlation. In our Minnesota data, voters in 1996 were about half as likely to be rearrested from 1997-2000 as non-voters.”
It’s a chicken and egg argument and so impossible to draw firm conclusions, but it certainly seems clear enough that preventing former felons from voting does not make communities safer.George Bush, in his 2004 State of the Union address, said: “When the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” Giving people a second chance seems to most of us to make common sense.
Sources: Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, Voting and Subsequent Crime and Arrest: Evidence from a Community Sample, 36 Col. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 193 (2004-2005).
Muntaqim et al. v. Coombe et al., In Banc Brief of Amici Curiae Zachary W. Carter et al. In Support of Plaintiffs-Appellants and in Support of Reversal, 01-7260-cv/04-3886-pr (March 30, 2005) at 9-12.
Testimony of Wesley E. Andrenyak, Chief Advocate, Maine Department of Corrections in opposition to LD 200 (on file with ACLU).
At the outset of the Civil War, five states, all in New England, allowed African Americans to vote on the same basis as whites. When the war ended in 1865, four million African Americans, now free citizens, many of whom had fought in the war, also wanted a share in the political process.
Historian Alexander Keyssar of Harvard University notes that federal government sought to give political rights to African Americans through the Fourteenth Amendment, which confirmed former slaves were American citizens deserving equal protection from state laws. But a clause in the amendment said that any state that denied the right to vote to a portion of its male black citizens would have its representation in Congress proportionately reduced. Says Keyssar: “Although this section of the amendment amounted to a clear constitutional frown at racial discrimination, and Congress hoped that it would protect black voting rights in the South, the amendment, as critics pointed out, tacitly recognized the right of individual states to erect racial barriers.”
1870 saw the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment, which said that the rights of citizens to vote should not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. But Congress failed to act to enforce voting rights, leaving power in the hands of the states.
In the South, black freedmen were enthusiastically embracing democracy, voting in large numbers and taking their place in the new state governments being created as part of Reconstruction. But by 1890, southern states, ignoring the Fifteenth Amendment, had begun disfranchising black voters. Mississippi led the way, with a constitutional convention that included complex residency requirements, a poll tax, and a literacy test. Other states followed. Felony disfranchisement was part of this exclusion process, with many Southern states identifying minor offences like vagrancy that could be used to disfranchise African Americans. And the laws were effective. Keyssar notes that in Mississippi after 1890, less than 9,000 of 147,000 voting-age blacks were registered to vote, while in Louisiana, where more than 130,000 African Americans had been registered to vote in 1896, the figure plummeted to 1,342 by 1904. Other states began disfranchising felons, too. From 35 per cent of states with broad felony disfranchisement laws in 1850, 96 per cent had such a law by 2002.
In fact, African Americans in the South remained largely disfranchised until the civil rights movement righted the situation. Congressman John Lewis sees the need to end felony disfranchisement as the next step in the struggle for civil rights. And in a paper on racial threat and felon disfranchisement in the United States from 1850-2002, authors Behrens, Uggen and Manza conclude that racial disparities in punishment still drive voting restrictions on felons and ex-felons today.
Reference: Alexander Keyssar, The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (Basic Books, 2000).
Other useful links: http://www.sentencingproject.org/pdfs/mauer-crj.pdf
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
These words from the Declaration of Independence are at the heart of our democracy in the United States. They were penned at stirring times, as colonial Americans fought the War of Independence against, among other things, a glaring injustice — taxation without representation.
Today, millions of Americans are working, paying taxes, living in the community, bringing up families, yet they are without a voice in local or national affairs. It's an inherent inequality in our system, one that seems to run counter to the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence.
Historian Alexander Keyssar notes that in the 19th century, the United States was a pioneering country, a beacon of democratic rights. But he says that the United States ends up being quite slow to finish the job.
The recently reauthorized Voting Rights Act went a long way towards redressing imbalances. But it left one group of citizens behind. Says US Congressman John Lewis: "I just think the American people got to rise up. And not be quiet. Find a way to get in the way. And I think here today, we must see this as an extension of the civil rights movement. It is time for the American citizens to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble."
And the reasons for doing so are imperative. Alexis de Tocqueville, visiting this country in 1831, saw lively civic participation in local governments and communities, and praised the power and vitality of American democracy. Today, we face increasing disengagement and disenchantment with the political process. High incarceration rates and felony disfranchisement exacerbate that, creating a culture of indifference instead of a vibrant democracy.
Is a democracy inherently more democratic if it is more inclusive, invites more participation? It seems safe to say that most people would think so. We strive towards the democratic ideal of equality that de Tocqueville praised. But denying people the right to vote disproportionately affects minority communities and increases divisions in our society.
So let's not take people out of the political process by denying them the vote. Let's open up our political process, as John Lewis says, "and let all of our people come in."
Reference: Alexander Keyssar, "The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States" (Basic Books, 2000).
A major argument by those who support disfranchising people with felony convictions is that their cases ought to be heard individually to decide who should be able to have their voting rights restored and who shouldn’t. On the face of it, this sounds plausible. But in practice it is inequitable, unwieldy, expensive, and arguably no state has ever done a good job of it.
One state struggling with this issue is Florida, where all former felons remain permanently disfranchised unless they apply for a pardon or seek civil rights restoration through the Board of Executive Clemency.
Despite spending over $4 million a year to maintain its cumbersome clemency process, Florida has a backlog of at least 8,000 cases waiting (estimates vary widely). Ex-felons who succeed in getting a clemency hearing, usually after waiting for several years, are given five minutes or so to make their case to the governor and three of his cabinet members. Governor Bush frequently asks them whether they are using alcohol, or getting along with their family, or whether they are remorseful for their crime. As Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project says, it is “entirely inappropriate in a democracy to be imposing such character tests on something as fundamental as the right to vote.”
Former felons who are granted a clemency hearing are generally given about a week’s notice before they have to get themselves and any witnesses they’d like to have testify on their behalf to Tallahassee, paying for their costs for travel and lost work time themselves. For some, the process is just overwhelming, especially as they try to reenter society and turn their lives around.
Florida’s efforts to streamline its process just show how unwieldy, time-consuming and just plain difficult it is to decide on a case-by-case basis. Other states also have processes that are difficult for ex-offenders. Why are such processes necessary at all? And couldn’t tax dollars be better spent elsewhere?
Walking around South Providence; or Selma, Alabama; or Overtown, Miami; as we did while shooting, we could see the effects of poverty first hand — streets of closed businesses, decaying buildings, poorly equipped schools. These are communities that need help and support from their elected officials and from government. Yet, ironically, these are the communities that get the least attention from legislators, because their political clout is vastly reduced.
To have political influence, you have to have a voice. And in many of these communities, poor education, drug problems, high levels of incarceration, and felony disfranchisement are diluting and permanently eroding the voter base, creating a cycle of poverty and sparking fears of an intergenerational culture of nonvoting and nonparticipation.
How much does felony disfranchisement contribute to the problem? A study carried out by the Rhode Island Family Life Center found that one in five black men and one in eleven Hispanic men are barred from voting statewide. In some urban communities, like South Providence, more than a tenth of all residents are disfranchised, and more than 40 per cent of black men aged between eighteen and 34 cannot vote due to a felony conviction.
A similar study in Atlanta by the Sentencing Project found that one of every eight black males in Georgia is disfranchised because of a felony conviction. In Atlanta, that figure rises to one in seven. The report says that in eleven Atlanta neighborhoods, more than a tenth of black men are disfranchised. And it notes that a third of black male disfranchisement in Georgia is as a result of a felony conviction for a drug offense.
A study on the impact of felony disfranchisement on voting power in the Latino community in ten targeted states found that significant numbers of Latinos are prohibited from voting by felony disfranchisement laws, and that Latinos are more likely to be disfranchised than the general population.
The conclusion we can draw from these studies is that felony disfranchisement affects the ability of communities — especially minority communities — to express their political voice. The Atlanta study points out that disfranchisement "also affects public safety and reintegration through actual and symbolic barriers to social participation."
Says the report: "This disenfranchisement effect contributes to a vicious cycle within public policy development that further disadvantages low-income communities of color. The first means by which this occurs is through decisions on resource allocation. In citywide decision-making regarding spending for schools or social services, residents of certain neighborhoods will have considerably more political influence than others, solely because "one person, one vote" is distorted through the loss of voting rights.
"At a state level, beleaguered communities are affected through a diminished impact on public policy. Consider, for example, the disproportionate effect of drug policy on African American communities. Nationally, the vast increase in incarcerated drug offenders, fueled in large part by a heavy emphasis on law enforcement patterns and punitive sentencing policies, has had a highly skewed impact on communities of color. Many political leaders in these communities are concerned about the problem of drug abuse, but have called for a more balanced approach that emphasizes prevention and treatment. Yet, because there are fewer voting residents in these neighborhoods — due in significant part to drug policies — these voices have increasingly less political influence."
Do we really want to create communities that, through generations of non-participation, don't know about or care about voting or participating in the democratic process? How will that affect our society? Can we confidently say we have a working democracy if so many are excluded from being part of it?
The ACLU of Wisconsin is committed to advancing the rights of felons to vote in Wisconsin. Please go to their website: http://www.aclu-wi.org/ to sign up for updates on this issue.
For more information and updates on progress nationwide in advancing felon enfranchisement, please go to the ACLU’s website. http://www.democracysghosts.org/
Other good resources of information (for the research impaired like Jay's friend...):
What's this Blog About?
Politics in Wisconsin as they roll up to every level... and some other thoughts that may cross my mind are explored here from my lefty point of view. My values shape my opinions. You'll always find them in here. Let's have some fun exploring why Liberal values are American values!
Your comments are both welcome and encouraged!
(The watercolor is called Magnolia Tree for Momma, by Audrey Crawford)
Your comments are both welcome and encouraged!
(The watercolor is called Magnolia Tree for Momma, by Audrey Crawford)