A study released jointly
last week by The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch finds that 13%,
approximately 1.4 million African American men, are ineligible to vote
-- many permanently -- due to their criminal records. That percentage
is seven times the national average. Overall, 3.9 million Americans
have been disenfranchised.
Laws vary widely between
states regarding a convicted felon's right to vote. 31 states restrict
voting for those on probation or parole, while in 14 states, a single felony
conviction can lead to lifetime disenfranchisement. In Arizona and
Maryland, two-time offenders lose their eligibility for life.
Marc Mauer, Assistant Director
of The Sentencing Project, spoke with The Week Online.
report seems to have hit a nerve with people -- not unlike a previous Sentencing
Project report which found that one in three young black males in America
were under criminal justice supervision -- what kind of response has the
MAUER: We've been very
pleased with the response to this study. A lot of people were shocked
to hear about these findings and the policies that created them.
Most people didn't realize the level of disenfranchisement. Also,
I think that there's been a recognition that harsh criminal justice policies
have contributed to the explosion of these numbers over the past twenty-five
years or so.
WOL: Do you think that
the reaction will translate into action on the ground?
MAUER: We've been very
happy to hear from people in a number of different states who are thinking
about beginning litigation or introducing legislation as a result of the
report, to try to overturn some of the state-level policies in this regard.
So we're hoping to see some movement. It's encouraging to see the
report spur this kind of interest.
WOL: What kind of impact
does this level of disenfranchisement have in the real world?
MAUER: Well, we're
talking about almost four million people here. So while its difficult
to know what impact this has had electorally, it is a fairly substantial
potential voting block. I think particularly when we look at the
impact on the black community, which has been so disproportionately impacted,
it really points to the fact that we as a society -- whether consciously
or not -- we are diluting the voting strength of the black community through
this really massive disenfranchisement. In some communities the number
of disenfranchised voters is very high, and so it's likely to have both
an electoral and a sociological impact.
WOL: So what's the
MAUER: We're hoping
to capitalize on the interest that the report has garnered to see if we
can promote more discussion and activity in this area. Also, we'd
like to stimulate discussion and research on some of the other consequences
of enforcement and drug policy over the past few decades.
WOL: Finally, could
you tell us what impact the Drug War has had on this massive disenfranchisement?
MAUER: Clearly, over
the last fifteen years, drug policy has been the primary catalyst of the
explosion of prison populations, particularly with regard to minority
communities. It is the one area that if we could make policy changes
in that area that would make an enormous impact on some of the disturbing
numbers that we see.
(The Sentencing Project/Human
Rights Watch study, which is titled "Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony
Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States," can be found online on the
Human Rights Watch web site at http://www.hrw.org/reports98/vote/.
The Sentencing Project is online at http://www.sentencingproject.org.
The third annual conference of the Campaign for an Effective Crime Policy,
a project that is affiliated with the Sentencing Project, will be held
in Bethesda, Maryland on Nov. 12-14 -- for information, call (202) 628-1903,
e-mail [email protected]
or visit http://www.crimepolicy.org.
-- END --
Issue #65, 10/30/98
Announcements | STUDY: 13% Of Black Men Ineligible to Vote | Mother Holding Child Shot by Police in Her Home | Medical Marijuana Goes to Voters on Tuesday | Forces Lined Up For and Against I-59 | Report from Oregon | Court Ruling Ends Reverse Marijuana Sting Operations | Tasmanian Government Wants Possession of Marijuana Legalized | Editorial: The 13% Solution
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