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Unjust voter suppression

Melvin B. Miller

Conservatives have been employing a perfectly legal technique for reducing the black vote. It is actually a two-step process. First, a bigoted criminal justice system convicts blacks of felonies. Then once a felon, the citizen loses the right to vote. However, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Governor of Virginia, has developed a technique for circumventing this disenfranchisement. He simply exercises his clemency authority to restore felons to the voting rolls upon their release from prison.

Only in Maine and Vermont do convicted felons not lose their right to vote. They can even exercise an absentee ballot while in prison. In Massachusetts, felons lose their vote while in prison. D.C. and 13 other states have this restriction. But the rules are more restrictive in the Old Confederacy, and it is possible to lose the right to vote permanently in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.

According to Washington, D.C.’s Sentencing Project, about 5.85 million citizens are denied the franchise because of felony convictions. McAuliffe’s bold move has focused attention on the issue, and the Democratic Party is advised to push for greater changes in the restrictive laws in time for the November presidential election. There is now a greater awareness of the unjustified denial of the rights of citizens who have paid their debt to society but are still severely alienated.