a bird and a bottle

Give Them (Back) The Vote!
March 30, 2007, 8:18 am
Filed under: activism, civil rights, criminal justice, law, news, news & views, politics

Good news out of Maryland today: The state Senate the other day approved a bill that would give back the franchise to all ex-offenders after they have completed their sentences and probation or parole, except for those who have committed election fraud. The state’s old (current) law was complicated, but it barred some ex-offenders from voting forever and some for three years after the completion of their sentences and probation or parole.

Of course, as the Baltimore Sun reports, there are two sides to this story:

Supporters said the measure is needed to help former offenders become productive citizens. Some of the qualifying felonies are as minor as food stamp fraud.

Opponents argued that the people convicted of the most serious felonies should never be allowed to vote.

There’s no reason that people convicted of felonies should be permanently barred from voting. Doing so doesn’t deter crime and only ensures that prison reform never happens since those with the most intimate knowledge of prisons have no political voice and no political power. Many have argued that these bans are unconstitutional, but in 2005 the Supreme Court refused to hear a case on the issue.

According to a NY Times Editorial today encouraging the MD Governor to sign the bill, in passing this legislation, Maryland will come line with a handful of other states. Of course, the disenfranchisement of ex-felons remains a problem in the deep south, where the law’s racist roots and results haven’t lost enough traction:

These changes have been slow in coming to the Deep South, where felon voting bans were enacted long ago as part of broad plan aimed at diluting black political power.

The most damaging bans are found in Florida, where Gov. Charlie Crist recently committed himself to sweeping away restrictions that bar more than 950,000 ex-offenders from voting. The news from Maryland should give Mr. Crist inspiration to move forward.

Florida’s draconian ban permanently strips the franchise from anyone convicted of a single felony. A felony can be anything from possession of a small amount of marijuana to a serious violent crime. Only two other states have similarly harsh bans, which are vestiges of Reconstruction-era policies to suppress the Black vote. Though there is an appeals process in FL through which a person can apply to have her or his voting rights restored, the process is long and complex and the restoration of rights can only be approved by the Governor or an executive committee.

Maryland is setting a good example. Gov Crist needs to follow his neighbor to the north’s lead.

12 Comments so far
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I believe Gov. Crist is trying to eliminate this practice. In addition, he reversed Jeb Bush on future election reform: Electronic voting is out, paper trails will be in.

Here is a Gonzo-Gate story that will really make you angry. Bud Cummins is one of the eight attorneys recently fired (serving the state of Arkansas). His replacement: J. Timothy Griffin. Here is what Truthout says about Mr. Griffin:

“Through a process known as “caging,” Griffin’s team sent letters to newly registered voters in envelopes barring any forwarding, so they would be returned if a voter wasn’t at that address. BBC’s investigative reporter Greg Palast uncovered Griffin’s role in this practice that proved especially effective in “caging” African-Americans who lived in low-income areas or who were serving in the U.S. military. The “caged” voters would then be challenged by Republican lawyers when they arrived at the polls. According to Palast and his BBC report, Griffin “was the hidden hand behind a scheme to wipe out the voting rights of 70,000 citizens prior to the 2004 election. Key voters on Griffin’s hit list: Black soldiers and homeless men and women.” Palast noted that “targeting voters where race is a factor is a felony crime under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

Link: http://www.truthout.org/docs_200…6/ 032907F.shtml

Needless to say, I will be covering this in my forthcoming book on the Florida 2000 Recount. More to the point, state and federal election laws were violated by Griffin, who should be prosecuted as an offender, certainly not rewarded with an Attorney General appointment. This is especially galling. The emerging picture: A pernicious and pervasive attempt to guarantee neo-con majorities in future elections, by hook and by crook.

Comment by Swampcracker

Swampcracker, your link’s messed up.

Comment by Alon Levy

Alon, copy/paste the entire line including the black text. The comment engine did format it correctly.

Comment by Swampcracker

Okay, try this:

Comment by Swampcracker

That is truly messed up…and not all that surprising. The disenfranchisement of poor Black (mostly liberal) voters is as old as the franchise for black voters. From poll taxes to literacy tests to identification requirements. It’s as old as the hills. It is, of course, appalling that the practice continues (and stupid that people ever claim American society is colorblind).

The most messed up part about the BBC report:

BBC’s investigative reporter Greg Palast uncovered Griffin’s role in this practice that proved especially effective in “caging” African-Americans who lived in low-income areas or who were serving in the U.S. military.

This guy stoops so low that he disenfranchises people risking their lives in Iraq. Way to support our troops, Bushies!

Comment by bean

Certainly not the first time this administration has rewarded a criminal.

Comment by anon.

“This guy stoops so low that he disenfranchises people risking their lives in Iraq. Way to support our troops, Bushies!”

I would like to make every neo-con write this on the blackboard one thousand times, and then prosecute Mr. Griffin for election tampering.

Comment by Swampcracker

Thanks so much for consistently covering the criminal justice stories – it’s not where my activist background is, but I find the issues compelling and under-reported…

And hurrah for Maryland! Seems pretty progressive. And it seems (possibly just cause of the sample I read on your blog!) that there is a progressive lean recently towards these issues -especially if FL is reconsidering their laws – any idea why?

Comment by MilbyDaniel

MD, the Florida recount debacle for starters. And two, the new governor wants to prove himself independent from his predecessor and seek a more progressive course. Crist has reversed a whole basket of Jeb policies. Surprise!

Comment by Swampcracker

It could be that Bush has inadvertently promoted the rise of a Christian right oriented toward social programs, best represented by Brownback and Huckabee. On its own it couldn’t do much, but it could tip the balance in favor of existing prison reform programs.

A good way to check if what I say makes sense is to see where those programs will crop up. If I’m right, the greatest change will be in the South and Midwest; Maryland and Florida are both borderline cases.

Comment by Alon Levy

Here is another TruthOut article by Joseph Rich, a 35 year veteran of the DOJ and chief of the voting section, civil right division, from 1999 to 2005. He states:

“Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections. It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.”


Comment by Swampcracker

[…] civil rights, news Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has done something profoundly right. Following Maryland’s lead, Florida today restored voting rights to felons who have finished serving their […]

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