“6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016” votingbooth

The Sentencing Project has authored a timely new study regarding felony disenfranchisement. The report, titled 6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016,” is authored by researchers Christopher Uggen, Ryan Larson, and Sarah Shannon.

The report begins with an overview stating that:

“The United States remains one of the world’s strictest nations when it comes to denying the right to vote to citizens convicted of crimes. An estimated 6.1 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of “felony disenfranchisement,” or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes.”

With 2016 being a presidential election year, the issue of who gets to vote and voting restrictions is receiving a great deal of attention. The Sentencing Project report provides a good reference point for a number of facts and statistics that should be considered by those concerned with the problems. For example:

  • As of 2016, an estimated 6.1 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a figure that has escalated dramatically in recent decades as the population under criminal justice supervision has increased. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, and 5.85 million in 2010.
  • Approximately 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population — 1 of every 40 adults — is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
  • Individuals who have completed their sentences in the twelve states that disenfranchise people post-sentence make up over 50 percent of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling almost 3.1 million people.
  • Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In six states — Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia — more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised.
  • The state of Florida alone accounts for more than a quarter (27 percent) of the disenfranchised population nationally, and its nearly 1.5 million individuals disenfranchised post-sentence account for nearly half (48 percent) of the national total.
  • One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than that of non-African Americans. Over 7.4 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.
  • African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In four states — Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent) — more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.

Unfortunately, these numbers are similar to, if not worse than, those published prior to the 2012 presidential election when I joined with a colleague to write: Felony Disenfranchisement: Why 5 Million Americans Can’t Vote This November; cover article in Minnesota Bench & Bar, October 2012, Kassius O. Benson and Kaarin Nelson. Hopefully, greater legislation and real reforms will be made to stop this devastating reality.

–Kassius Benson

Kassius O. Benson is Senior Counsel at Kassius Benson Law, P.A., a criminal defense law firm dedicated to the representation of individuals and businesses charged with serious criminal offenses.

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