To kick off the series, today we're addressing felony disenfranchisement — which affects 6.1 million Americans, according to criminal justice advocacy organization The Sentencing Project. Keeping people from exercising their right to vote after they served their time is a form of voter suppression just like voter ID laws and gerrymandering and makes it harder to integrate back into society.
The issue has racial undertones as felony disenfranchisement primarily targets people of color—especially African-Americans, who have higher incarceration rates than their white counterparts. Several of the states that ban ex-offenders with felonies are enforcing laws that are centuries old. Florida, for example, began restricting people with felonies since 1868. The Sentencing Project reports that there are approximately 1.5 million people who can't vote in Florida because of their criminal records—that's 10 percent of the state's adult population. Considering that in 2016 the winning presidential candidate won the state by 112,911 votes this is a big deal when it comes to future elections.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is working with local organizations to restore voter rights to ex-offenders through its Let People Vote campaign and People Power initiative, which is a grassroots movement to end voter suppression based on felony convictions in Florida and nine other states. Right now an effort is underway to collect 1 million signatures needed from registered Florida voters by December 31, 2017, to get a constitutional amendment on the state ballot for 2018 that will allow Florida voters to weigh in on the issue.
If you agree that non-violent ex-offenders who've served their time should get the opportunity to be full Americans again—here's how you can take action at a People Power event near you.