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Research Report

Restoring the Right to Vote

  • Erika Wood
Published: May 11, 2009

The right to vote forms the core of American democracy. Our history is marked by successful struggles to expand the franchise, to include those previously barred from the electorate because of race, class, or gender. As a result our democracy is richer, more diverse, and more representative of the people than ever before. There remains, however, one significant blanket barrier to the franchise. 5.3 million American citizens are not allowed to vote because of a felony conviction. As many as 4 million of these people live, work and raise families in our communities, but because of a conviction in their past they are still denied the right to vote.

Felony disenfranchisement serves no legitimate purpose. More disconcerting, these laws are rooted in the Jim Crow era and were designed to lock freed slaves out of the voting process. It is time to remove this last barrier to the franchise.