January 22, 2018

∴ How Reversing Felony Disenfranchisement is Transforming Virginia

Vann R. Newkirk II—The Atlantic:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Virginia has historically been one of the most zealous states in the country in disenfranchising people with felonies, with even those who finish probation having what amounts to a lifelong severance of voting rights unless the governor reviews their case and restores their rights personally.

Also unsurprisingly—like dozens of similar laws in other states—that restriction was created with explicitly racist intent.

“I told the people of my county before they sent me here that I intended,” delegate R.L. Gordon said, “as far as in me lay, to disenfranchise every negro that I could disenfranchise under the Constitution of the United States, and as few white people as possible.”

I’ve heard friends complain mightily about former Governor McAuliffe’s act giving blanket restoration of voting rights to ex-convincts.

Many of these folks go on to vote for Democratic candidates. That provides a clue to my friends’ grievance.

So many ex-cons are people of color. As a newly re-enfranchised voter, wouldn’t you support candidates who sought to rectify past wrongs done to your people, or at least not support candidates who have done a 180 on civil rights? Do not R.L. Gordon’s own words provide enough evidence of the greater sin America continues to perpetrate against people of color?

Slavery has long been illegal in America, but that is not the same as non-existent. Slavery morphed into the Jim Crow laws after Democratic lawmakers dismantled Reconstruction. Jim Crow, struck down by Brown v. Board, gave way to the rise of “getting tough on crime,” a code phrase for locking up black and brown people.

White America has long held a fear of unfettered blackness. That fear, and the newly found political “toughness” on crime in the 1960s led inexorably to the carceral state in which we live: the proportion of black and brown prisoners in state penitentiaries far exceeds their proportion of the greater population.

Or does complaining about re-enfranchisement amount to willful ignorance, or a changing of the (unpleasant) subject to divert attention? If so, why are these folks so willful? What is that act of will that keeps race-based disenfranchisement a common practice?

These questions almost answer themselves. Not for everyone, though, and not nearly with enough force. Those willfully ignorant of issues like black disenfranchisement and minority voter suppression are the self-same who gave us our current president, yet who protest mightily against being labeled “bigot.” To a person they may not be bigots, but as a group they had no problem making one our president, and they have no problem keeping disproportionally black and brown ex-convicts off the voter rolls.

Restoration of the US Constitutional right to vote should be automatic for prisoners who have completed their conviction sentence in all US states and territories.

#bigotry #race #politics #disenfranchisement #Virginia #carceralState