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NAACP LDF Report Highlights Impact of Felon Disfranchisement Laws

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

(New York, New York) – Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) released Free the Vote: Unlocking Democracy in the Cells and on the Streets, a report detailing the impact felon disfranchisement laws have on communities of color nationwide.

“Securing the right to vote for the disfranchised—persons who have lost their voting rights as a result of a felony conviction—is widely recognized as the next phase of the voting rights movement,” said John Payton, LDF Director-Counsel.

Nationwide, more than 5.3 million Americans who have been convicted of a felony are denied access to the one fundamental right that is the foundation of all other rights. Nearly 2 million, or 38%, of the disfranchised are African Americans.

The report details that a staggering 13% of all African-American men in this country—and in some states up to one-third of the entire African-American male population—are denied the right to vote. Given current rates of incarceration, an astonishing one in three of the next generation of Black men will be disfranchised at some point during their lifetime.

Nowhere are the effects of felon disfranchisement more prominent than in the Black community, where more than 1.5 million Black males, or 13% of the adult Black population, are disfranchised—a rate seven times the national average.

The impact on Black voting strength at the state level is devastating. In Alabama, for example, one in three Black men have been disqualified from voting as a result of a felony conviction. In Washington State, an incredible 24% of Black men, and 15% of the entire Black population, are denied their voting rights. In New York, though Blacks and Latinos collectively comprise only 30% of the State’s overall population, they represent an astonishing 87% of those denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction.

“Regrettably, more than a century after emancipation, and in the 45th anniversary year of the Voting Rights Act, increasing numbers of Blacks and Latinos nationwide are actually losing their right to vote each day, rather than experiencing greater access to political participation,” said Ryan P. Haygood, Co-Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group.

“Fortunately, new efforts to reform felon disfranchisement policies suggest that many lawmakers are beginning to understand that felon disfranchisement is not only discriminatory in its application, but also undermines the most fundamental aspect of American citizenship: the right to participate in the political process,” continued Haygood. “We must join in these efforts to help empower ourselves, enhance our collective voting strength, and improve the conditions of our communities, by freeing the vote for people with felony convictions.”