by Spencer Overton, Mon Jul 31, 2006 at 07:28:37 AM EDT
The following ideas are from the second chapter of the book Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression.
In 1995, Debbie Hardy was a drug addict who had served six months in jail on a felony charge. She gave birth to nine children out of wedlock and lost custody of all of them. But then she turned her life around. She kicked her drug habit, and helped her older sister to do the same. By 2004, she was raising two of her oldest children--with one bound for the Navy and the other college. She also had a good job as the manager of a Burger King restaurant.
Hardy lives in Florida, however, a state that imposes a lifetime ban on voting by former offenders who have completed their sentences. So Hardy's past continues to haunt her. "I am trying to do the right thing, but I have had this felony hanging over my head for 12 years," said Hardy.
Over 2 million people in the United States have completed their sentences but cannot vote (that's more people than the voting-age population Delaware, Wyoming, Alaska, and Vermont combined). Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia are alone with Armenia in being the only democratic governments in the world that permanently revoke voting rights from all citizens who have completed their sentences. A few other states--Alabama, Arizona, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming-- disenfranchise many but not all people who have served their time. As a result, U.S. citizens account for only 4.6% of the world's population but make up almost half of the people on the planet who cannot vote due to a criminal offense. In states like Florida and Virginia, 25-30% of black men cannot vote due to a felony conviction.
Despite the fact that 80% of Americans favor restoring voting rights to Americans who have completed their time, the rule persists because some politicians benefit from the exclusion.