Human Rights Maps (71): Voting Rights for Felons in the U.S.

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democracy / human rights maps / justice / law

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.

criminal disenfranchisement laws across the US map


A slightly different version:

felon voting rights map

(source, click on the image to enlarge)

And 2 more versions:


felon voting rights

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.

disenfranchisement of blacks in the US


Some prison statistics are here. More human rights maps here. Some explanations about why voting rights are human rights are here.


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  3. The “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) THIS PETITION SEEKS TO ABOLISH ALL PRIVATE PRISONS IN THE UNITED STATES, (or any place subject to its jurisdiction) The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil. We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the states, as well as, the federal bureau of prisons (including most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America. Prior to the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. We remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.” Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was once unimaginable merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system. John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG” There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope. It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place the Link to the Petition on Your Website! Pass It On! The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems. These new slave plantations are not the answer! For more information please visit: To sign the petition please visit:


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