In the United States, as of 2018, nearly 6 million Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color, are denied the right to vote on account of having felony convictions. Constitutional amendments protect against disfranchisement based on race, gender, and age. But there are no such recognized protections (yet) for those who have paid their debt to society and seek to reintegrate into their communities as full citizens. Due to historical structural inequalities in the criminal justice system, this disfranchisement of millions continues to have a disproportionate impact on the Black community.
To confront what many recognize as the next phase of the civil rights movement and access to democratic participation for all citizens, LDF has been dedicated to spearheading litigation, legislation, and community empowerment advocacy to end the discriminatory purpose and effects of felon disfranchisement laws that harm individuals and their respective communities far beyond their incarceration sentences.
For example, in 2010 in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, LDF challenge Washington’s felon disfranchisement law that prevents 25 percent of all Black men in the state from voting. In a first of its kind ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, finding that it imported the pervasive racial discrimination of the criminal system into the political process, and denied voters of color an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. In a devastating decision, an 11-member en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit ultimately reversed the panel ruling.
In 2015 and 2016, LDF joined a coalition to push for the passage of the Democracy Restoration Act, which seeks to restore voting rights to previously incarcerated people in federal elections. We also have advocated to governors, for example, in Maryland, and state representatives, including in Maryland, California, Florida, and Louisiana to change or implement their state laws to provide opportunities for enfranchisement for people with felony convictions.
And in 2019, LDF, along with the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, submitted a number of letters to the Florida House and Senate urging legislators to oppose bills under consideration that would significantly undermine Amendment 4’s historic mandate to expand voting rights to returning citizens in Florida.
Read more about LDF’s efforts to free the vote for people with felony convictions.