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Locked Out: Sentencing Project 2022 report

Alan Flurry

New research by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for restoration of voting rights for people with prior felony convictions, estimates that 2% of the voting age population in the United States will be ineligible to cast ballots during this year's midterm elections due to state laws banning people with felony convictions from voting.

The Sentencing Project advocates for effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice. The 2022 report, Locked Out 2022: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights, was co-authored by Sarah Shannon, Director of Criminal Justice Studies Program at the University of Georgia.

Laws in 48 states ban people with felony convictions from voting. In 2022, an estimated 4.6 million Americans, representing 2 percent of the voting-age population, will be ineligible to vote due to these laws or policies, many of which date back to the post-Reconstruction era. In this election year, as the United States confronts questions about the stability of its democracy and the fairness of its elections, particularly within marginalized communities, the impact of voting bans on people with felony convictions should be front and center in the debate.

"Despite recent state-level reforms that have re-enfranchised many, 4.6 million U.S. citizens remain disenfranchised due to felony convictions. This represents a 24 percent decline in felony disenfranchisement since 2016, showing the progress that has been made by hard working voting rights advocates to expand the vote," said Shannon, associate professor of sociology at UGA.

"At the same time, this number represents 2 percent of the total voting eligible population and disparities remain stark by race," Shannon said. "Five percent of the African American voting eligible population are disenfranchised nationwide, and in eight states, more than 10 percent of the African American voting eligible population is banned from voting. With a few exceptions, these states tend to be clustered in the southeast (AL, AZ, FL, KY, MS, SD, TN, VA)."

In contrast, many Northeastern and Midwestern states limit disenfranchisement to individuals currently in prison, or not at all.

According to the report, many states provide some limited mechanism for disenfranchised persons to restore their right to vote, though these vary greatly in scope, eligibility requirements, and reporting practices. 

"The state laws that support felony disenfranchisement clearly have a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities and should be of great concern to the American public along with the broader issue of vote suppression," Shannon said.

Shannon's co-authors on the report are Christopher Uggen, Regents Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota; Ryan Larson, Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Hamline University; and Robert Stewart, Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University of Maryland.

Read the full report.

Image: Figure 6 from the report. African American Felony Disenfranchisement Rates, 1980



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