The right to vote is one of the basic fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens of the United States. Although the 15th Amendment provides that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, 48 states have felony disenfranchisement laws, which disproportionately impact African Americans. As of 2020, an estimated 5.17 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. One in 16 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.7 times greater than that of non-African Americans. Over 6.2 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.7 percent of the non-African American population.
There is growing momentum to dismantle felony disenfranchisement and restore voting rights across the country. Maine and Vermont are the only states in which those convicted of a felony offense never lose their right to vote. In July 2020, Washington, DC joined Maine and Vermont in allowing those convicted of a felony to vote while incarcerated. Several other states have recently changed their laws to provide automatic restoration of the right to vote upon release from prison. In November 2020, California voters passed Proposition 17 which amended the state constitution to allow those on parole for a felony conviction to vote.
In August 2020, the ABA passed a resolution urging federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to:
repeal laws that disenfranchise persons based upon criminal conviction;
restore voting rights to those currently and formerly incarcerated, including those on probation, parole, or any other community-based correctional program;
assure that no person convicted of crime is disenfranchised because of nonpayment of a fine, court costs, restitution or other financial obligations imposed as a result of a criminal conviction.
This panel of experts discusses the history of felony disenfranchisement, why it is a racial justice and voter suppression issue, and the legal and policy strategies being used to restore voting rights across the country.