All American citizens should have the right to vote; yet more than 6 million Americans across the country are denied this right by laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felonies.
In this land of freedom and democracy, one out of every 13 Black adults is disenfranchised nationally. In Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia one out of every five Black adults is disenfranchised—2.2 million Black citizens are banned from voting. Only Maine and Vermont have no voting restrictions.
Felony disenfranchisement is a big phrase that means if you are a convicted felon, you cannot vote. The laws and policies vary from state to state. In New York State as of 2016 approximately 77,000 people were incarcerated, in prisons, in New York City jails and in county jails. A further 44,000 were on parole supervision, bringing the total number of disenfranchised persons to approximately 121,000.
In April of this year, Gov. Cuomo announced he would restore the right to vote New Yorkers on parole through an executive order instructing the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to submit a list of individuals who will then be considered for a pardon to restore voting rights. Those on parole who have no more than one felony conviction may apply to have their voting rights restored by a certificate of relief or a certificate of good conduct. Unfortunately, these conditional rights are not always being communicated to those on parole by their parole officers. In addition, this executive order can be rescinded by Cuomo or the next governor. Of course, there is no mention of the voting rights of those still inside prisons.
We should all have a voice in the decisions that affect us, our families and our communities. The Alliance of Families for Justice is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support, empower and mobilize families with incarcerated loved ones and people with criminal records so that they can marshal their collective power and bring about the social justice changes they want to see in the world. AFJ is fighting for the restoration of the right to vote to all citizens, regardless of criminal history, current incarceration or community supervision status and are committed to educating pre-conviction detainees, as well as individuals with felony convictions who are not under community supervision, to the fact that they are able to vote and should exercise that right. AFJ’S Felony Disenfranchisement Campaign will not only evolve around public education but also involve putting pressure on policy makers with the goal of introducing legislation.
When you combine felony disenfranchisement with gerrymandering, gentrification, red lining and prisoners being counted by the census bureau in the location where they are incarcerated, as opposed to the location where they come from, you can see how the political power of the Black community is being sapped.
The time to take action is now! End felony disenfranchisement!
Kevin Barron is an author, radio show host and volunteer with the Alliance of Families for Justice. For more information on AFJ, go to www.afj-ny.org or call 347-973-0580.