The NAACP is asking the United Nations to help ensure that ex-cons can exercise their right to vote in the November 6 elections.
A delegation from the African American civil rights group just returned from Geneva, Switzerland, where it petitioned a U.N. Human Rights Council panel to investigate the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens through bans on former inmates voting.
“Today, nearly 5.3 million U.S. citizens have been stripped of their voting rights on a temporary or permanent basis, including more than 4.4 million citizens who are no longer incarcerated,” Lorraine Miller, chairwoman of the NAACP’s advocacy and policy committee, said in a statement.
More than 2 million of America’s 5.85 million disenfranchised voters are black, according to the NAACP, despite African Americans making up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population.
NAACP chairwoman Miller has commended U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s efforts through the Justice Department to ensure that states comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discrimnatory voting practices designed to disenfranchise African Americans.
Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based advocacy group, said the NAACP was taking an “intriguing” approach.
“By trying to frame this as an international issue, a human rights issue, it does call attention to how extreme the U.S. policies are compared to international standards,” Mauer tells TakePart.
According to a recent report by Mauer's group, “The United States is one of the world’s strictest nations when it comes to denying the right to vote to citizens convicted of crimes. A remarkable 5.85 million Americans (circa 2010) are forbidden to vote because of ‘felon disenfranchisement,’ or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes.”
It concludes: “How much difference would it make if state laws were changed to reflect the principles most Americans endorse? The answer is straightforward: Voting rights would be restored to well over 4 million of the 5.85 million people currently disenfranchised.”
Adds Mauer: “If we want people to succeed when they come out of prison, we need to get them to engage in constructive institutions in their community.”
The NAACP echoed that view.
Dennis Gaddy, the group’s criminal justice chair for North Carolina, noted he had been incarcerated in his youth, but went on to improve his life.
“Americans who have served their time must have their full citizenship rights restored,” Gaddy said in a statement.
The Associated Press notes that many states and the District of Columbia automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences.
Still, 30 states deny voting rights to felony probationers, according to the Sentencing Project, and 35 disenfranchise parolees. Moreover, 11 states continue to deny voting rights to some or all of the “ex-felons” who have successfully completed their sentences.
Maine and Vermont are the only two states in the country that don’t have restrictions on felons voting.
The NAACP’s request to the U.N. isn’t expected to yield drastic policy changes in the United States.
Meanwhile, one of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, according to the Sentencing Project.
That’s beginning to change, as states such as Maryland have lifted bans on ex-cons voting, and putting the disenfranchised back onto the voter rolls could reshape the national debate.
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