A September 2013 report on United States disenfranchisement laws, their history, rationale, and the disproportionate impact they have on minorities has been submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
A coalition representing several non-profit, civil rights organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, and The Sentencing Project, authored the report.
“The Committee expressed concern that the country’s felony disenfranchisement practices have ‘significant racial implications,’” the report said.
According to the report, felony convictions have an unequal impact on African Americans and other groups of minorities with similar felony convictions.
Such laws that disenfranchise (deny voting rights to) American citizens, due to felony convictions, have existed since the founding of the United States, the report said.
“These laws were born out of the concept of a punitive criminal justice system – those convicted of a crime had violated social norms, and, therefore, had proven themselves unfit to participate in the political process,” it was reported.
Disenfranchisement laws have been used, with an array of other methods, “to circumvent the requirements of the Fifteenth Amendment,” which is supposed to forestall states from preventing individuals from voting based on “previous condition of servitude,” among other criteria, the report said.
According to the report, at one time there were “fears over the ‘purity of the ballot box’ and concern that allowing certain current or even former inmates to vote would ‘pervert’ the political process.”
The coalition’s report said supporters of disenfranchisement laws suggest that, “if allowed to vote, individuals with felony convictions would constitute a cohesive voting bloc, which would distort criminal law.”
The Supreme Court, however, has said that “’fencing out’ from the franchise a sector of the population because of the way they may vote is constitutionally impermissible.”
During the twentieth century, perceptions about criminal behavior have slowly changed. We now recognize the possibility to rehabilitate inmates, and the ability to reintegrate them into society once they are released.
“In the past fifteen years there has been a general trend toward liberalization of felony disenfranchisement laws,” the report said. “Proponents of felony disenfranchisement argue that such laws may deter crime, though disenfranchisement has not been shown to actually accomplish the goal of deterrence.”
The report went on to say that these laws “extend punishment beyond the walls of the prison,” for persons who are on parole or probation, and for those who have completed their sentences.
According to the coalition’s report, there are 5.85 million American adults who are unable to vote due to disenfranchisement laws. Of that number, only 25 percent are in prison.
Public opinion surveys, according to the report’s conclusion, show that “eight of every ten Americans support the restoration of voting rights to persons convicted of felonies who are no longer under state supervision.”
Several recommendations were submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee:
- That the U.S. Government publicly support the automatic restoration of voting rights to citizens upon their release from incarceration for felony convictions.
- That the U.S. Government investigate the disproportionate impact of felony disenfranchisement laws on minority populations and issue a report of its findings.
- That the U.S. Government encourage states to inform criminal defendants of the voting rights implication of an arrest or felony conviction and to provide information on voting rights restoration process upon release from prison and/or completion of criminal sentences.