The right to vote and felon disenfranchisement

As we've noted on this blog before, one issue rarely discussed in major political debates -- but one which has had a huge impact on politics in the South -- is felon disenfranchisement.

Vestiges of the Jim Crow era, these laws that bar those convicted of a felony from voting -- in same states, for the rest of their lives -- have taken millions of voters out of the political equation in the South, especially African-American voters.

Blogger Spencer Overton recently posted a thoughtful analysis of felon disenfranchisement laws at MyDD, which clearly lays out the consequences:
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.
As Overton emphasizes, resistance to changing felon disenfranchisement laws is bipartisan. Over at, Overton offers a telling chronology of attempts to convince Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) to sign an executive order that would have restored voting rights to over 243,000 Americans who had served their time. He didn't do it -- and tens of thousands of largely African-American citizens remain locked out of the democratic process.