Felons Not Being Allowed To Vote Is ‘The New Jim Crow,’ Ayanna Pressley Says

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2020/10/18/felons-not-being-allowed-to-vote-is-the-new-jim-crow-ayanna-pressley-says/

Outraged that convicted felons can’t vote in some states, U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley is comparing the current situation with government-enforced segregation of blacks in the South between the 1870s and the 1960s.

“This is the new Jim Crow,” Pressley tweeted Saturday, October 17.


“Jim Crow” refers to racial segregation and disenfranchisement laws passed by state legislatures in the South that made it mandatory to separate blacks from whites in public facilities and accommodations and made it difficult or impossible for blacks to register to vote.

Pressley (D-Dorchester) represents Massachusetts’s Seventh Congressional District. She is one of four first-term left-wing Democratic women of color in the U.S. House of Representatives known as “The Squad.”

Her comment touches on a potentially influential subgroup in close elections in battleground states – including the upcoming November election. Convicted felons who vote tend to vote for Democrats. But in some places, they can’t vote.

Pressley’s tweet this weekend cites a CNN story quoting a newly released study by The Sentencing Project, which supports lowering incarceration and opposes mandatory minimum sentences.

The study found that 5,177,780 people can’t vote in the United States because they are convicted felons. Three-quarters of them are not currently in jail, the study found.

Supporters of allowing felons to vote say that voting is a fundamental right and that taking it away from felons amounts to unjustified disenfranchisement. Opponents say losing the right to vote is a reasonable penalty for a felony, and that people who have committed serious crimes should not as a group have political influence.

States vary in their policies.

Forty-eight of the 50 states put some kind of restrictions on the ability of convicted felons to vote, according to the study. Only Maine and Vermont don’t.

Massachusetts is one of 17 states in the country that prohibit current prison inmates from voting, the study found, though felons can vote in Massachusetts after being released from prison. Among New England states, that’s also the case in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Elsewhere, it’s the case in Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Utah.

Four states don’t allow felons to vote if they are either in prison or out on parole:  Connecticut, New York, Louisiana, and California.

Sixteen states bar voting for felons who are in prison, on parole, or on probation:  Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Ten states are the most restrictive, not allowing felons to vote whether in prison, on supervised release, or even after their sentence has been completed. They are Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia in the South; Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic; Iowa and Nebraska in the Mid-West; and Arizona and Wyoming in the West.

Of the 10 most restrictive states, eight voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016, and two (Delaware and Virginia) voted for Hillary Clinton.

That leaves Florida, where the situation is fluid.

As of 2018, Florida was among the most restrictive states – not allowing felons to vote even after completing their sentences.

Florida voters in November 2018 approved an amendment to the state constitution (by a vote of 65 to 35 percent) restoring voting rights to felons “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation,” with the exceptions of murder and sex offenses.

Critics say Amendment 4, as the measure is known, puts some violent offenders on a par with their victims when it comes to voting rights.

“Amendment 4 restores – without regard to the wishes of the victims – voting rights to violent felons, including felons convicted of attempted murder, armed robbery, and kidnapping, so long as those felons completed all terms of their sentences,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wrote in June 2019. “I think this was a mistake …”

The written message from DeSantis, a Republican, accompanied his signing of a bill passed by the Republican-led state legislature that required felons to pay any fines, fees, or restitution ordered by a court in order to regain voting rights, making it a state statute. A federal court found the state statute unconstitutional, but in September 2020 a federal appeals court overruled the lower court and upheld the statute.

The requirement that felons pay back what a judge says they owe has left a lot of freed felons unable to vote in Florida.

The 2018 referendum “should have reenfranchised most people who have completed their sentences,” The Sentencing Project’s study states, but it didn’t.

“We estimate that almost 900,000 people who owe outstanding legal financial obligations (fines, fees, and restitution) remain disenfranchised,” the Sentencing Project study states.

Enter Mike Bloomberg. In September, associates of the left-leaning billionaire made it public that Bloomberg helped raise $16 million to pay fines, court costs, and restitution on behalf of felons in Florida so they could regain their voting rights.

Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York City who briefly ran for the Democratic nomination for president earlier this year, wants felons in Florida to vote because a disproportionate number of them are black and an overwhelming majority of blacks in Florida vote for Democrats.

“We have identified a significant vote share that requires a nominal investment,” a Bloomberg memo quoted by The Washington Post in September states. “The data shows that in Florida, Black voters are a unique universe unlike any other voting bloc, where the Democratic support rate tends to be 90%-95%.”

Democratic nominee Joe Biden might need the extra boost, according to the memo, because he is polling lower among Cuban-Americans in Florida than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

Florida is widely considered a must-win state for President Donald Trump in November. He won the state by 112,911 votes in 2016, or about 1.2 percentage points.

Presidential elections in Florida have been within 5 percentage points since 2000. In two races (2000 and 2012) the Democratic and Republican nominees came within a point of each other.

As of Sunday, October 18, the Real Clear Politics average of polls in Florida showed Biden leading Trump by 1.4 percentage points.

The most recent public poll (from Hill/Harris), released Friday, October 16, has the presidential race in Florida tied at 48.