One in Four Black Men in Kentucky Can’t Vote, But DRA Could Change That

By Julianne Hing Mar 18, 2010

Those are the stats from the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, which released its report on the state of Black folks there last month. Kentucky’s got the special distinction as being one of two states that bars people with past felony convictions from voting for their entire lives. That could change though, if the Democracy Restoration Act passes. The bill would restore the right to vote in federal elections to four million people around the country who’ve served their time, been released and now live–and likely pay taxes–in our communities. On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Committee, Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties convened a hearing to listen to testimony on the bill. If passed, DRA would join the larger state-based movement in the last ten years to restore folks with prior convictions the right to vote. Since 1997, twenty states have made adjustments to laws to allow at least some portion of the formerly incarcerated the right to vote in state elections. Kentucky’s actually got a state version of DRA in committee right now, awaiting passage by its Senate before it goes to a public vote. Ex-felon voter disenfranchisement is a voter suppression tactic left over from the Jim Crow-era, a classic example of discriminatory laws that don’t mention race but have a disproportionate impact on people of color. Literacy tests, anyone? Poll taxes? We don’t stand for that these days, yet voter disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions still stands on the books. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, 50,000 of Kentucky’s two hundred thousand Black residents were unable to vote in 2004 because of voter disenfranchisement. Nationwide, it’s estimated that 13 percent of all Black men in this country are forbidden to vote. Some democracy, huh? But talk of voter disenfranchisement must be considered alongside a conversation of the deeper, broader issues embedded in the criminal justice system. You know, the criminal justice system that convicts and imprisons Blacks and Latinos at higher rates than white people, that doles out harsher sentences to Black folks than white folks for similar crimes, that executes people of color at higher rates than white people. The two go hand-in-hand. The Democracy Restoration Act is a no-brainer. Stay with us as we follow this bill.