NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 12, 2008

A disparate group of grass-roots Democrats and civil rights activists are trying to register tens of thousands of newly eligible felons.  They have taken up the cause on their own, motivated by the belief that former offenders have been unfairly disenfranchised for decades. 

  • In Alabama, Al Sharpton's younger brother, the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, will take his "Prodigal Son" ministry into state prisons with voter-registration cards for the first time.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union recently filed suit there and in Tennessee to make it possible for an even larger class of felons to register.
  • In Ohio, the NAACP will hold a voter-registration day at the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland this month to register "people caught up in the criminal justice system," a local official said.
  • In California, a team will stand in front of jails on Aug. 16 to register people visiting prisoners and encourage them to take registration cards to their incarcerated friends or family members, some of whom can legally vote.

In Florida, a law change last year made more than 115,000 felons eligible to vote, according to the state Parole Commission.  In other states, civil rights and criminal justice groups estimate there are similar numbers who have not registered.

All but two states -- Maine and Vermont -- limit voting rights for people with felony convictions.  Some felons are banned from voting until they have completed parole and paid restitution, others for life. Kentucky and Virginia have the most restrictive laws, denying all felons the right to vote, though Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has encouraged nonviolent offenders to apply to have their rights restored.

Source: Krissah Williams Thompson, "For Those Once Behind Bars, A Nudge to the Voting Booth," Washington Post, August 11, 2008.

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