Bouie provides these data from 2010: 5.85 million US citizens (1 in 40 adults) are currently disenfranchised; 2.2 million of those are black, including 1.4 million males.
The Constitution gives states the right to define restrictions on voting for those who have committed a crime. The result is an array of different approaches that vary from lenient to quite severe. Bouie describes a number of these state restrictions. Rather than delving into details, let’s focus on effects.
Florida has the largest population of the disenfranchised. Bouie provides these numbers from 2010: 10.4% of the voting population is disenfranchised, including 23.3% of the black voting population. Can anyone doubt that these numbers are large enough to affect results in such a narrowly divided state? Would George W. Bush have become president without these voting restrictions in place? Do Florida politicians look on these numbers with dismay—or with smug satisfaction?
Bouie provides this insight:
The disproportionate effect on black voters was part of a plan initiated after the end of Reconstruction.
"They were written as race-neutral but were racist in their effects, as Middle Tennessee State University history professor Pippa Holloway documents in her book Living in Infamy: Felon Disenfranchisement and the History of American Citizenship. In just the period between 1874 and 1882, every Southern state but Texas found ways to disenfranchise those convicted of minor crimes like petty theft. ‘Some Southern states changed their laws to upgrade misdemeanor property crimes to felonies,’ Holloway explains, ‘and finally, Southern courts interpreted existing laws to include misdemeanors as disenfranchising crimes’."
If one should remain dubious of the intent of these laws, Bouie provides this relevant quote:
Bouie refers to the current versions of these laws as "this last vestige of Jim Crow." But what if there is more of Jim Crow still around and about traveling under different guises? That is what Michelle Alexander believes. She makes her argument in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Consider this quote from her book:
Under traditional Jim Crow it was simple to charge southern blacks with some sort of crime if one wished to, but under a New Jim Crow one must be more circumspect.
The machinery for converting blacks into second-class citizens was to be the War on Drugs.
Alexander points out felons have more rights taken away than just the right to vote.
Alexander implies that there was an active, plotting intelligence that created the War on Drugs, produced legislation that imposed incredibly harsh penalties on even recreational drug users, that encouraged—financially—local law enforcement agencies to arrest and incarcerate as many people as possible, that had the Supreme Court provide the permission to preferentially arrest blacks, and then passed laws and instituted policies that would guarantee second-class status for life for anyone caught up in this system.
At the time I first read Alexander’s book I agreed that the net effect of what had transpired was as she described, but I had trouble with the concept of assigning a hidden, guiding hand to its implementation. However, the more I have learned about the manufactured hysteria connecting drugs and crime, drug legislation, voting right restrictions, the Supreme Court, and our criminal system, the more I have begun to wonder if I was not the one who was wrong.
I continue to wonder. We all should be wondering.