Currently, 2.6 million ex-cons are barred from voting because of US felony disenfranchisement laws. This is on top of the 3.2 million disenfranchised still in prison.
A slightly different version:
(source, click on the image to enlarge)
And yet another version:
Taking away someone’s human rights can only be done for a good reason, for example if this is necessary in order to protect other people’s rights. So we can imprison people and take away their freedom of movement if there is no other way to protect the security and property of other people. However, I always failed to understand the benefits of taking away prisoners’ right to vote. And completely incomprehensible is the permanent disenfranchisement after a felony conviction. The reason can’t be because they’re not worthy to vote. I can think of many other people who could be considered not worthy to vote. If we go down that road, we might as well abolish democracy altogether and hand over power to the intellectual and virtuous elite, if such a thing exists.
Perhaps the reason has something to do with crime prevention. The argument could be that if we allow criminals to shape the legislative system we’ll end up with a system that favors crime. However, Patrick Appel has some evidence that indicates that disenfranchisement is actually a counterproductive crime control measure:
According to a 2004 study, former prisoners who vote are half as likely to reoffend. If suffrage constitutes even a small nudge toward the straight and narrow, why shouldn’t we grant prisoners the right to vote? As things now stand, criminal-voting laws vary widely by state: in some, a first-time drug offender will be denied the right to vote for life; in others, murderers can vote while behind bars. But overall, America’s position on voting rights, particularly with regard to former criminals, is the most punitive of any developed nation. … Crime costs this country an estimated $1.4 trillion annually. Unless disenfranchisement helps reduce that number — and the evidence suggests that it does the opposite — then denying prisoners the vote in order to minutely heighten the virtue of the voting pool is a bad trade.
A better argument in favor of disenfranchisement is that convicted felons don’t deserve to help shape the society they live in, because by their actions they have proven to reject that society. Hence society has the right to reject them, even after they have paid for their crimes. Disenfranchisement is then a kind of “pure punishment”, a punishment that is imposed for its own sake, merely because people deserve it and not because of some possible positive consequences it might produce (like capital punishment in the minds of those proponents who have – rightly – given up on the deterrent argument). However, one can argue that rejecting people from society – and that’s what you do when you take away their voting rights – is a rather risky course of action. Rejected people are dangerous people. If a criminal gets the message that society doesn’t care about him anymore, why would he care about society and about what he does to it?
There’s an interesting article on the same subject here. The result of these restrictions is that over 5 million Americans are prohibited from participating in the democratic process. Because African Americans are disproportionately likely to be in prison, they are particularly affected: 7.7% of the total African-American population is denied the vote.