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Spotlight: convicted felons and voting restrictions

The consequences of a criminal conviction can sometimes follow a person into society after he or she fully serves a prison sentence and reenters the public realm, and they can last a lifetime.

A ready example is illustrated by a recent article that delves at some depth into laws that exist in almost every state limiting the right of prisoners, and sometimes former prisoners, to vote.

Voting is a fundamental right that is highly valued, if not outright treasured, by millions of Americans. And it is a right that is flatly taken away from many felons, who are in fact disenfranchised by the millions.

In fact, the advocacy group Sentencing Project states that approximately 5.85 million Americans with felony convictions were barred from voting in elections during 2010. That high level of disenfranchisement has a singular effect on African Americans, with the project reporting that about 7.7 percent of all eligible black voters across the country were barred from voting in 2010 owing to felony convictions.

Arkansas joins every other state in the union save for Maine and Vermont in imposing a voting ban on felons convicted of criminal charges who are currently in prison. Along with a host of other states, it reinstates voting rights to persons who have completed their criminal sentences, including parole and probation.

Many other states are less accommodating, with 10 of them, including neighboring Mississippi, placing a lifetime voting restriction on felons.

An interactive map provided courtesy of the global nonprofit public policy organization Pew Charitable Trusts indicates that more than 65,000 felons are presently barred from voting in Arkansas, which comprises about three percent of the state’s eligible voting population.

By comparison, nearly 183,000 felons are denied voting rights in Mississippi. That equates to about 8.3 percent of that state’s voting-age population.

Source: USA TODAY, "Voting rights for felons on the table in several states," Jake Grovum (Pew/Stateline staff writer), Feb. 21, 2014

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