How Systemic Racism Keeps Millions of Black People from Voting

How Systemic Racism Keeps Millions Of Black People From Voting Full
Felony disenfranchisement laws in some form remain on the books in 48 states.

This disproportionate impact on black people is no accident: it has its roots in systemic racism that dates back to the Reconstruction Era. Many states already had disenfranchisement laws in place in some form at the end of the Civil War. However, following the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments—which, respectively, banned slavery, except for people who have been convicted of a crime; established birthright U.S. citizenship; and gave black men the right to vote—states passed a flood of new or amended bans. These were in addition to other voting restrictions, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. According to a report by The Sentencing Project, some states tailored their laws specifically to apply to crimes thought to be committed more often by black people—and excluded crimes thought to be committed more often by white people.

Additionally, states with a higher proportion of black residents—like Mississippi and South Carolina—were more likely to pass harsher restrictions. Together with enforcement practices that caused more black Americans to be involved in the criminal justice system to begin with, these laws had a significant negative impact on black voting power from the late Nineteenth century onward.

Today, the legacy of these laws lives on, and black people comprise 38 percent of all Americans who have been stripped of their voting rights due to conviction histories, though they are only 13 percent of the country’s population. While poll taxes and literacy tests were abolished with the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, felony disenfranchisement laws in some form remain on the books in 48 states. As America continues to grapple with its history of racial oppression and the impact of mass incarceration, the states that are working to restore voting rights for people with felony convictions are moving in the right direction.


More States Are Restoring Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated People, and That’s a Very Good Thing

Not only is the restoration of voting rights a benefit to our democracy, it's also a benefit to those who are personally impacted. While community support is essential to a person's successful reentry after incarceration, this support is—in large part—dependent on a person's ability to engage in their community in the first place. One of the most e...

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  • Karina Schroeder
    Karina Schroeder
  • Kevin  Keenan
    Kevin Keenan
November 06, 2017
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