NEW REPORT: Record 6.1 million Americans barred from voting in national elections by state restrictions on individuals with felony convictions

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EMBARGOED for October 6, 2016Media contact: Morgan McLeod, (202) 628-0871
NEW REPORT: Record 6.1 million Americans barred from voting in national elections by state restrictions on individuals with felony convictions

  • 4.7M of the total disenfranchised population are living in their communities
  • Florida leads the nation—nearly 1.7M disenfranchised
  • In four states—Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia—more than 1 in 5 African Americans can't vote
More Americans who are serving or have completed a felony sentence will be barred from voting in this year’s national election than in any election in the nation’s history — one by-product of the nation’s mass incarceration policies.
In a new report published today by The Sentencing Project, researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of Georgia estimate that a record 6.1 million people — 1 of every 40 adults — are disenfranchised because of state laws that bar voting by Americans with a felony conviction, and in some states even if they have completed all requirements of their sentence.
That figure has escalated dramatically in recent decades as the population under criminal justice supervision has increased. Over three-quarters of this population (4.7 million people) are not incarcerated, but are living in their local communities – some on probation or parole, while others have completed their legal obligations.
“It is in no one’s interest to treat these men and women as second-class citizens. Our collective interest is best served by restoring to them the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. We need them working, caring for their families, paying taxes and participating in civic life,” said Christopher Uggen, Regents Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the report.
In 6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement in the United States, researchers Christopher Uggen, Ryan Larson, and Sarah Shannon find varying rates of disenfranchisement across the country due to broad variations in state policies.  In six southern states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia – more than 7% of the adult population is disenfranchised. The state of Florida, with nearly 1.7 million disenfranchised, accounts for more than a quarter of the disenfranchised population nationally, and nearly half (1.5 million) of the disenfranchised population that has fully completed their felony sentence.
Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow citizens to vote while in jail or prison. An additional 14 states restore voting rights once a person leaves prison.
Several states have enacted reforms this year to expand the electorate. Maryland extended voting rights to persons on probation and parole, and in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe has restored voting rights to 13,000 individuals who have completed their felony sentences. In addition, the state of Alabama has moved to ease the rights restoration process for certain individuals who have completed their sentences.
The report underscores the disproportionate impact of felony disenfranchisement laws on African American communities. Nationwide, 1 in every 13 black adults cannot vote as a result of a felony conviction, and in four states—Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia—this figure is more than one in five. According to the report, African Americans are disenfranchised at a rate more than four times that of non-African Americans nationally.
“It is clear that racial disparities in the criminal justice system translate into disparities in felony disenfranchisement,” stated Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “These policies often exert a life-long adverse impact on the socioeconomic life prospects of African Americans.”
The Sentencing Project is a national non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.
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