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LOCKING UP THE VOTE: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy


The Project What are the origins of voting restrictions on the voting rights of criminal offenders? How have they varied across countries and in the states? – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: LOCKING UP THE VOTE: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy

(No Transcript)
The Project
  • What are the origins of voting restrictions on
    the voting rights of criminal offenders? How have
    they varied across countries and in the states?
  • How is disenfranchisement justified legally,
    politically, philosophically, and in the criminal
  • Does felon disenfranchisement have any impact on
    democratic elections, or is its impact largely
  • Does the right to vote have anything to do with
    the likelihood of recidivism or desistance?
  • Are existing processes of restoration through
    clemency fair and reasonable?
  • Do these laws enjoy public support today?
  • What are some of the policy implications?

Pre-Modern Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement
  • ANCIENT GREECE loss of citizenship rights
  • ROMAN EMPIRE offenders subject to infamia
  • RENAISSANCE EUROPE outlawry /civil death
    loss of all civil rights
  • ENGLISH LAW attainder, in extreme cases dead in
  • Early American History
  • Colonial Period moral qualifications a key
    requirement for participation in early colonial

How did the Right to Vote Become an Entitlement
in the US?
  • Constitution?
  • States allowed the right to regulate access to
    the ballot
  • Amendments setting limits on states (14th, 15th,
    19th, 24th, 26th)
  • Voting Rights Act and Supreme Court cases of the
    1960s establishing so-called strict scrutiny of
    state restrictions

Allowable Restrictions
  • Legal Immigrants
  • Children
  • Uncounted Ballots?
  • Felons and Ex-felons
  • 14th Amendment (1868)
  • section 1equal protection clause
  • Section 2removes protection for those convicted
    of rebellion or other crimes
  • Richardson v. Ramirez (1974)

Criminal Justice Master Trends
  • Rise in incarceration and conviction rates (over
    600 since 1972)
  • 2 million incarcerated, 7 million under
    correctional supervision
  • Crime rates stable (trendless fluctuation) until
    the early 1990s, then falling

State Disenfranchisement Laws, 2004
Disenfranchisement in 2004
  • Approximately 5.3 million disenfranchised felons
    in the U.S.
  • 2.4 of the voting age population, 2.75 of the
    voting eligible population
  • 2 million African Americans
  • 8 of the African American VAP, and about 15 of
    all black men
  • Ex-felon estimates adjusted for mortality and
    recidivism to avoid double-counting

Estimated Distribution of Legally Disenfranchised
Felons in the U.S., 2004
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overall vote dilution
Size of Disenfranchised Felon Population,
Inmate Voting Rights Around the World
  • Europe
  • No Restrictions Bosnia, Croatia, Cyprus,
    Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Finland, Greece,
    Latvia Lithuania, Macedonia, Netherlands, Poland,
    Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine
  • Selective Restrictions Austria, Belgium, France,
    Germany, Italy, Malta, Norway, San Marino
  • Current Prisoners Disenfranchised Armenia,
    Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary,
    Luxembourg, Romania, Russia, United Kingdom
  • Elsewhere
  • No Restrictions South Africa, Canada, Israel
  • Selective Restrictions Australia, New Zealand

Percentage of States Disenfranchising Felons and
Ex-Felons, 1788-2002
Two Key Historical Conclusions for Contemporary
  1. Laws Precede Recent Changes in Criminal Justice
  2. Legal changes since 1960 have generally been in a
    liberalizing direction

What if 1960 Laws Existed in 2000?
What is the Contemporary Impact of
A Counterfactual Approach
  • What would happen if felons and ex-felons had
    been allowed to participate in national
  • Would some narrow elections won by Republicans
    have been won by Democrats instead?

Methodological Issues
  • No survey data measuring voting behavior of
    felons or ex-felons
  • Cannot assume felons would turnout and vote like
    rest of the population
  • Solution Match characteristics of the felon
    population to information about turnout and
    voting behavior among similar eligible voters, as
    measured through election surveys

Overall Turnout Rates and Estimated Turnout among
Disenfranchised Felons, Presidential Elections
Democratic Preference Overall and among Felons,
Major Party Voters in Presidential Elections,
What is the Impact of Felon Disenfranchisement?
Estimated Impact of Disenfranchisement on
Presidential Elections
  • 2000 Election What if Felons had been Allowed to
    Vote? .
  • Actual Hypothetical Net Counter-
  • (R) Total Est. Est. Lost (D) factual (D)
  • Unit Margin Disfrancd Turnout
    Dem Votes Margin
  • United States -539,947 4,695,729 29.7
    68.9 527,171 1,067,118
  • Florida 537 827,207 27.2
    68.9 85,050 84,513
  • 50 Turnout 13.6 68.9 42,525
  • Ex-felons Only 613,514 13.6
    68.9 31,540 31,003
  • 1960 Election What if we Disenfranchised in 1960
    at the Rate we do Today? .
  • Actual Counter Net Counter-
  • (D) Total Factual Est. Lost (D) factual
  • Unit Margin Disfrd Disfrd Turnout
    Votes Margin
  • United States 118,550 694,329 2,502,211
    40 361,576 243,026
  • 50 Turnout 20 180,788 62,238
  • Hypothetical assumes 75 Democratic party

Estimated Impact of Felon Disenfranchisement on
the U.S. Senate 1978-2000
  • Total Turnout Pct. Actual Counter- Held
    Actual Counter-
  • Year State Disfrd Rate Dem. Margin factual
    Until Senate factual
  • 1978 VA 93,564 16 80 4,721 -4,547
    2002 5841 (D) 6039 (D)
  • 1978 TX 190,369 13 80 12,227 -3,181
    2002 5841 (D) 6039 (D)
  • 1982 - 5446 (R) 5248 (R)
  • 1984 KY 75,064 38 69 5,269 -5,655
    2002 5347 (R) 5050 (-)
  • 1986 - 5545 (D) 5842 (D)
  • 1988 FL 293,512 26 79 34,518 -11,217
    2000 5545 (D) 6040 (D)
  • 1988 WY 9,982 24 79 1,322 -116
    2006 5545 (D) 6040 (D)
  • 1990 - 5644 (D) 6139 (D)
  • 1992 GA 131,911 30 75 16,237 -3,052
    2000 5743 (D) 6337 (D)
  • 1994 - 5248 (R) 5446 (D)
  • 1996 - 5545 (R) 5149 (D)
  • 1998 KY 126,040 25 70 6,766 -5,848
    2004 5545 (R) 5149 (D)
  • 2000 - 5050 ( - ) 5446 (D)
  • In Virginia, Warner (R) def. Miller (D) in 1978,
    Harrison in 1984, Spannaus in 1990, and M. Warner
    in 1996 In Texas, Tower (R) def. Krueger (D) in
    1978 Gramm (R) def. Doggett in 1984, Parmer in
    1990, and Morales in 1996 In Kentucky, McConnell
    (R) def. Huddleston (D) in 1984, Sloane in 1990,
    and Beshear in 1996 In Florida, Mack (R) def.
    MacKay (D) in 1988 and Rodham in 1994 McCollum
    (R) def. Nelson (D) in 2000. In Wyoming, Wallop
    (R) def. Vinich (D) in 1988 and Thomas (R) def.
    Sullivan (D) in 1994 In Georgia, Coverdell (R)
    def. Fowler (D) in 1992 and Coles in 1998
    succeeded by Miller (D) in 2000. In Kentucky,
    Bunning (R) def. Baesler (D) in 1998.

III. meaning - political life of felons
  • General survey Youth Development Study
  • Those who experience criminal sanctions
  • have lower turnout, but much of the effect is
    due to differences in education
  • are less trusting of the government and express
    lower levels of political efficacy
  • may be more likely to self-identify as political

political attitudes
meaning to those affected
  • Felon interviews 33 Minnesota prisoners,
    probationers, and parolees.
  • Political experiences and participation
  • Salient issues
  • Stigma and reintegration
  • Partisanship, trust, other civil disabilities
  • Diverse in race, gender and age all major
    offense categories represented
  • Quick sample today

Dylan irrationality and reintegration
  • What is the fear that someone who has committed a
    felony would actually have a voice? were going
    to have some organized crime guy running for
    office, and were all going to get behind him?
  • They have the expectation that youre going to
    reintegrate back into society, become a
    functioning, contributing member of society. But
    yet youre not allowed to have a say-so I cant
    imagine the logic behind that other than as a
    continuing form of punishment, which again makes
    no sense. The whole principle of our legal system
    is you pay your debt. Debts done, you move on.

Pamela salt and loss
  • Getting back in the community and being a
    contributing member is difficult enough Yeah,
    we dont value your vote either because youre a
    convicted felon from how many years back I
    have paid for that and would like to someday feel
    like a, quote, normal citizen, a contributing
    member of society, and you know thats hard when
    every election youre constantly being reminded
    a little salt in the wound. Youve already got
    that wound and its trying to heal and its
    trying to heal, and youre trying to be a good
    taxpayer and be a homeowner one little vote,
    right? But that means a lot
  • Loss after loss after loss. And this is just
    another one. Another to add to the pile I am
    looking forward to and trying to prepare to be
    that productive member of society you telling
    me that Im still really bad because I cant
    vote is like making it sting again. Its like
    havent I paid enough yet? You cant really
    feel like a part of your government because
    theyre still going like this, Oh, youre bad.
    Remember what you did way back then? Nope, you
    cant vote.(prisoner, 49)

Paul taxation voice
  • I have no right to vote on how my taxes is going
    to be spent or used, which I have to pay whether
    Im a felon or not. Im not saying give back gun
    rights or anything like that But giving back
    voting rights is another way to make a person
    feel part of that community. How can you feel
    that youre giving back to a community when
    youre exiled from it by not being able to vote
    and have a voice in it?
  • I really get kind of peeved when people say give
    back to the community because Im not a part of
    the community anymore as far as I can see it
    And so when they say, What are you going to
    give back to the community for this and for
    that? Im like well, hey, community doesnt want
    a damn thing to do with me, why should I go back
    and give anything to do with the community?
    (prisoner, aged 37)

Peter a racial thing
  • I think that they just want less blacks to vote,
    you know what Im saying? Cause 90 of peoples
    thats in jail, theys black anyway, or on
    probation or whatever. I feel, I feel thats
    what it is though. Less black people to vote,
    you know? When less of us vote, thats more for
    the other races to vote.
  • Look at any jail across the world- we the most
    people thats in there. We the most people
    thats overcrowding the jails so thats why I
    think its a racial thing towards us, you know I
    mean its a white world, you know? Peter,
    probationer, age 24

IV. might voting affect crime?
  • Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, 2005
  • research shows that ex-offenders who vote are
    less likely to re-offend.
  • National Reviews Peter Kirsanow
  • the problem with Vilsacks claim is that there
    is absolutely no research to support it. Not one
    longitudinal study exists showing the effects of
    the restoration of voting rights on crime rates
    or recidivism.

theorizing the relationship
  • Criminology
  • Adult social bonds to work, family (and
  • Restorative justice, reintegration, identity
  • Democratic Theory
  • Educative, constitutive, and expressive voting
  • Democracy molds virtuous citizens who identify
    with the polity and its norms and values
  • voting is a meaningful participatory act through
    which individuals create and affirm their
    membership in the community and thereby transform
    their identities both as individuals and as part
    of a greater collectivity (Winkler)

reasons for skepticism
  • Turnout they wouldnt vote anyway (Miles)
  • Self-selection voters are virtuous already
  • Weak treatment a limited and passive form of
  • Weak methods correlational, covariance
    adjustment approaches (ours too)
  • Skepticism from felons and academics

a stretch for some felons
  • Andrew To me that would be a stretchI think
    that people who are more likely to vote are, you
    know, just at different points in their life, and
    I just think that the people who are more
    likely to commit crimes arent gonna either
    commit those crimes or not commit those crimes
    because they have the ability to, to vote. I just
    dont think that votings gonna be a priority to
    them (probationer in 20s)
  • Larry I dont think that would have anything to
    do with it committing future crime, the right
    to vote. I mean I had the right to vote before I
    came to prison, but I still let my crime happenI
    dont see voting as having an effect on criminal
    behavior (prisoner in 30s)

survey evidence (YDS)(with Manza Columbia Human
Rights Law Review 2004b)
does the association hold net of arrest history?
  • Match MN voting and crime records
  • 1990 releasees through 2004, plus record search
  • Univariate
  • What percentage voted? minimum of 17-20
  • Bivariate
  • Compare voters and non-voters with non-parametric
    survival and hazard plots significant
    difference, 7
  • Multivariate
  • Create time-varying voting variable
  • Run basic recidivism model with voting big

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  • Civic reintegration through voting?
  • Maybe, if voting taps desire to participate as a
    law-abiding stakeholder in a larger society
  • Strong relationship hazard rate of recidivism is
    77 lower for voters in the previous biennial
    election than for non-voters, net of controls.
  • age, marriage, race, gender, offense, sentence
    length, property ownership
  • Practicing citizenship by voting may help
    reinforce identity as a law-abiding citizen
  • Reenfranchisement and public safety
  • Omitted variables and Oregon project

IV. does the public support felon voting
bans?(Public Opinion Quarterly 2004, with Manza
and Clem Brooks)
  • Harris Poll
  • Monthly omnibus telephone survey, July 18-22,
  • National sample of 1000 adults
  • Survey experiments
  • Randomly split sample into fourths and varied
    question wording and offense
  • Tested for non-attitudes

support for enfranchisement
framing effects
provisional answers to 5 questions
  • I. Impact?
  • Yes, but only in close Republican victories in
    states with very strict laws
  • Parties can ignore preferences of 5 million poor
  • II. Origins?
  • Old idea, tied to racial conflict in the U.S.
  • III. Do felons care about voting?
  • Yes, but other rights are more salient
  • IV. Is voting linked to crime?
  • Yes, it is correlated
  • We think it taps civic reintegration
  • It may reinforce an identity as a law abiding
  • V. Does the public support strict felon voting
  • No. Most only want inmates banned

citizens and felons
supplemental slides
Minnesota turnout in yds
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poll wording
  • There has been some discussion recently about the
    right to vote in this country. Some feel that
    people convicted of a crime who are in prison
    should have the right to vote. What about you? Do
    you think people in prison should have the right
    to vote?
  • who have been released from prison on parole
    and are living in the community
  • who are sentenced to probation (but not prison)
    and are living in the community (Or havent you
    thought much about this?)
  • Now how about people convicted of a crime who
    have served their entire sentence, and are now
    living in the community. Do you think they should
    have the right to vote?
  • convicted of the illegal trading of stocks
  • convicted of a violent crime
  • convicted of a sex offense

the Voting Rights of Prisoners
  • No Restrictions Bosnia, Canada, Croatia, Czech
    Republic, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland,
    Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland,
    Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden,
    Switzerland, Ukraine
  • Selective Restrictions Australia, Austria,
    Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta,
    New Zealand, Norway, San Marino
  • Complete Ban on Inmate Voting Argentina, Brazil,
    Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, India, Luxembourg,
    Portugal, Romania, Russia, United Kingdom
  • Post-Release Restrictions Armenia, Belgium
    (sentences over seven years), Chile, Finland (for
    up to seven years after imprisonment), Germany
    (court-imposed only in rare cases)
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