Either I’m three days late or two years early on this one.
Whichever way you look at it, we’ve got a problem when it comes to a segment of the electorate being unable to vote, their interests thus being ignored.
On Tuesday, 83 million people voted in the midterm elections, by and large selecting Republican candidates — because Democrats made a conscious effort to distance themselves from President Barack Obama (how’d that work out, guys?). But 5.85 million people were unable to vote because they were in prison, on probation, or otherwise had their voting rights stripped from them because they were convicted of a crime, despite completing their sentences.
Looking at the disproportionate number of Black males in America’s prison system, with one in six since 2001 seeing the inside of a jail cell, that means during any given election, armies of Black men will not cast a ballot because they have been marked with the scarlet letter of incarceration.
To be sure, 19 states have changed their felony disenfranchisement policies since 1997, according to the Sentencing Project, resulting in 760,000 getting the vote back. But different states have different ways of approaching re-enfranchisement. In New York, for example, convicted felons may regain the right to vote after completion of parole. But more than 64 percent of those disenfranchised are African American. Maine has a different attitude, altogether: prisoners are allowed to vote. There is no felony disenfranchisement there. Other states restore rights after probation and parole, but the length of that time can vary from felon to felon. Eleven states can permanently erase voting rights for ex-convicts depending on several factors.
It should be noted that the 10 states with the highest rates of felony disenfranchisement are all solidly red states, with the exception of Florida, a blue state — meaning Democrats and Republicans are to be held responsible. The Sentencing Project says in those states, one in every 13 Black adults could not cast a ballot.
For our communities that has a serious cost. Here are some examples of what happens when Black men cannot vote.
The day after the election, House speaker John Boehner and presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in no uncertain terms threatened the Affordable Care Act, warning the President that Republicans would do their best to chip away at it. Although the GOP will control the Senate, they won’t have the votes to do it, but they will attempt to dismantle what they can.
When Black men are not voting, they are not casting votes to defeat politicians who are part of the fight against the law, which has significantly reduced the number of uninsured African Americans since it was passed.
Since the George W. Bush administration, Republicans have advocated “school choice,” which is a thinly veiled language for right wing disdain for the public educational system and hence, unionized teachers. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law was a monumental failure, pushing for vouchers that would dismantle public schools and close them in Black communities. The result has been things like New Orleans entire school system going charter and conceivably taking a step back toward resegregation. When Black men are not voting, politicians in heavily Republican states like Louisiana can impose these things against the will of the people because there are none to counter them.
Blacks represent 66 percent of the total prison population in that state.
Texas, has executed more people than any other state since 1976 and there are a disproportionate number of Black men on death row there. It is a state where people actively defend government putting people to death and where Black men are quite vulnerable to unfair trials and railroading.
Texas appeals court judges are elected, not appointed.
That means the public puts them in office based on their interests. When Black men are not voting, they are not voting to keep judges off the bench who would not be fair in the appeals process, leaving a higher likelihood in capital crimes of actually being executed.
It’s too late to make a difference in the 2014 midterm elections. We will have to wait and see how Congressional, state legislature, and elected judicial officials will react to the powers given to them. But we also have two years until the 2016 election. Not only will we be electing a new president, we will also have the chance to vote for 23 open Republican seats and 10 open Democratic seats in the Senate. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be open in 2016, meaning voters can completely change the makeup of the house.
But Black men who do not have the right to vote because they have been imprisoned or are still linked to the criminal justice system because of probation or parole, have no influence in this process. It’s democracy for everyone else and fascism for people who have done time.
Madison J. Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based multimedia journalist specializing in urban issues and criminal justice. He writes for NewsOne on the subject of Black males in America. Follow him on Twitter:@madisonjgray