STUDY: 13% Of Black Men Ineligible to Vote 10/30/98

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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.

WOL: This 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 organization gotten?

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 next step?

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 The Sentencing Project is online at 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

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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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