The Surprising Thing that Can Take Away Your Voting Rights Forever

May 11, 2016

Democracy for all.

Let’s take a trip to Florida, the Sunshine State. Unfortunately, the news is not so sunny when it comes to voting rights in this tropical metropolis. Like a bowl of Chunky Monkey left out in that Florida sunshine, voting rights in the state are melting away.

Wondering why? The answer is Florida’s harsh ban on voting for anyone with a felony on their criminal record.

A Lifelong Punishment

Florida is one of a handful of states where all convicted felons lose their voting rights for life. One crime, even something non-violent like vandalism or a drug violation, can put an end to a person’s ability to participate in our democracy, even after they’ve served their time. Those youthful indiscretions that we now regret? Yep, those can lose you your vote for life in Florida, even after you’ve served your prison, parole, and probation time.

The result is 1.6 million Floridians—about 9% of the state’s population—who have no voice in electing officials and shaping policy. Nationwide, 5.85 million Americans are barred from voting because of similar laws that disenfranchise those convicted of felony offenses.

It Gets Even Worse

And there’s an even more sinister side to restrictions on felon voting: the law very disproportionately impacts African-Americans. Among Florida’s black population, one in four cannot vote because of a past felony conviction. Just 17% of the state’s total population is black. If that’s not disproportionate, we don’t know what is.

And with black voters facing barriers to casting their ballots countrywide, their voices are sorely needed in elections.

A Cycle of Systemic Racism and Voter Disenfranchisement

Consider how voting rights and the criminal justice system are intrinsically linked: juries are generally chosen from lists of registered voters, and studies show that all-white juries convict black defendants significantly more often than white defendants. When even one jury member is black, however, the discrepancy is mitigated.

So, if one in four black Floridians is blocked from registering to vote, not only do they not have a voice in elections, they are kept from ensuring a fair trial for other African-Americans accused of crimes. This makes it all the more likely that juries will continue to convict a disproportionate number of African-Americans and the dreadful cycle will continue.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is systemic racism. It’s alive and well in Florida’s criminal justice system and beyond.

Join us in calling for inclusive voting policies that allow everyone to cast their vote easily and without hassle. Florida is a perfect example of why it’s about more than just choosing our next president. It’s about ensuring that our democracy—indeed, our whole society—serves everyone, not just the privileged few.