Lee Davis: Study Highlights Harm Done By Felon Disenfranchisement Laws

Monday, September 24, 2012 - by Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Lee Davis
This election year voting rights laws have turned into a heated issue as civil rights groups and state legislatures fight over photo ID requirements. While that issue has received a lot of attention, the larger problem of felon disenfranchisement laws has attracted less concern despite the potential millions of votes at stake.

According to the nonprofit organization VOTE, individuals in Tennessee who have been convicted of a felony are ineligible to vote while incarcerated, on parole, or on probation. Those people convicted since 1981- except for some felonies such as murder, rape, treason and voter fraud - may apply to the Board of Probation and Parole to have their voting rights restored once their sentence is completed.
However, their felony charge remains on their records even if their application is approved. As of July 1 of this year, one-time felons also can restore their rights by expunging the charge from their records.

While the law in Tennessee is relatively straightforward, that is not the case across the country. Instead, a patchwork of restrictions exist which prevent nearly 5.85 million people with felony convictions from voting. A report released by The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., criminal justice reform advocacy group, reveals that the laws also disproportionately affect some races more than others.

Highlighting the varied laws, a felon in Maine is allowed to vote from prison using an absentee ballot, while a felon convicted of the same crime in Florida might never be allowed to vote, even after having been released from prison. Laws vary widely across the country dealing with how felons lose their voting rights and under what circumstances they can be restored. In Mississippi, there are 22 categories of crime that result in disenfranchisement. Timber larceny is included on the list while manslaughter is not. Adding even more hoops to jump through, the state laws say that felons who want their voting rights back must be approved by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature, and the governor can then either sign or veto the measure.

Those people who are eager for legal reform argue that voting is a crucial step in integrating criminals back into their communities. They point out that voting is a critical part of citizenship and disenfranchising millions of people is not a good way to make people productive members of society.

Advocates for legal change point out that minorities are far more likely to be affected by these laws than white criminals. Given that black people make up 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, but 37.9 percent of those in federal and state prisons, an overwhelmingly large number of black people are denied the right to vote when compared to other races.

Disenfranchisement also impacts the national political debate by removing millions of possible constituents from the voter rolls. Things like welfare reform and progressive taxation are all issues that affect this group of citizens, but their voices will not be heard given current laws.

Attempts have been made to rectify the situation, with legislation being proposed in Congress to create a national standard. Just this year Democrats introduced the Voter Empowerment Act which proposed sweeping changes in how federal elections are conducted and would let felons who are out of prison vote in federal elections. The measure went nowhere as politicians eager to seem tough on crime defeated it. 

(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)


Luken Communications Signs Multi-Network Deals In Washington, D.C. And Denver

Luken Communications, LLC announced multi-network affiliation agreements with WWTD – Washington, D.C. (DMA 8) and KHDT – Denver (DMA 17).  WWTD, operated by DC Broadcasting, Inc., will be bringing Retro TV and Rev’n to over-the-air viewers on channels 49.4 and 49.5, respectively.  Syncom Media Group, Inc.’s KHDT will broadcast Retro TV and Rev’n over-the-air on channels ... (click for more)

Gas Prices Drop .8 Cents In Chattanooga

Average retail gasoline prices in Chattanooga have fallen 0.8 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $1.82 per gallon on Sunday, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 170 gas outlets in Chattanooga. This compares with the national average that has fallen 2.3 cents per gallon in the last week to $2.02 per gallon, according to gasoline price website GasBuddy.com. Including ... (click for more)

Deonta Banks, 23, Shot On Wilcox Boulevard Early Sunday Morning

Deonta Banks, 23, was shot early Sunday morning on Wilcox Boulevard. At approximately  3 a.m.  the Chattanooga Police Department responded to shots fired at 3232 Wilcox Boulevard.  Upon arrival, Chattanooga police located a single victim, Deonta Banks, suffering from a non-life threatening gunshot wound. He  was transported to a local hospital for treatment. ... (click for more)

Man Stabbed In Domestic Dispute On Sunrise Lane Saturday Morning

A man was stabbed Saturday morning on Sunrise Lane.   At approximately  11:41  a.m., the Chattanooga Police Department responded to a reported stabbing at 309 Sunrise Lane.  Officers located a 45-year-old black male suffering from a non-life threatening stab wound. The victim was transported to a local hospital for his injury.   The ... (click for more)

Obama Doesn't Want You To Save For College

Over the past few decades, federal aid for post-secondary education has decreased and transitioned largely from grants to guaranteed student loans.   At the same time, the cost of college has far exceeded the cost of inflation creating a situation in which college has become less affordable and causing students to pile up debt that is at an all-time high.   This debt ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Value-Added Friendship

I need to take you through the back door on this one because it is a story that my friend Sandy Pohfal just sent me from Texas. Sandy happens to know Dr. John C. Dealey, a business-consultant wizard in Dallas whose advisory councils have made folks a lot of money. In turn, Dr. Dealey knows a guy he’ll only refer to as “Raymond.” Of all the guys I just mentioned, you need to focus ... (click for more)