Incarcerating Democracy

Incarcerating Democracy

The American politic has never experienced the full measure of representation in U.S. politics. This brief is a look at the ongoing and emerging approaches for limiting representative government as well as the crime of voter suppression itself, which ultimately curtails the possibilities of democracy. In this brief, we highlight the current tactics used to implement voter suppression. Finally, we discuss the strategic measures which can be taken to combat disenfranchisement tactics. We think it is important to examine this issue to demonstrate that in spite of the social justice victories of the last half century, there are serious threats to the democratic process.

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Incarcerating Democracy
Incarcerating Democracy

Key Observations

  • Descendants of the slave trade, first nations people, women, the economically disadvantaged,and those disenfranchised due to criminal convictions have never had the same access to voting as men of European descent.
  • At least four states disenfranchise all prisoners and parolees, 16 states limit the vote of those in prison, on parole, or on probation, and 11 states disenfranchise individual’s post-incarceration.
  • The first step to addressing voting suppression is advocating for the rights of convicted felons.

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Incarcerating Democracy

The right to vote is the foundation of democracy and is critical to citizenship. The United States’ experiment in “American Democracy” is often touted as one of the most representative forms of governance in the modern world. However, the American politic has never experienced the full measure of representation in U.S. politics.

Specifically, descendants of the slave trade, first nations people, women, the economically disadvantaged, and those disenfranchised due to criminal convictions have never had the same access to power as men of European descent. For the greater part of U.S. history, laws have prohibited many groups from the right of a representative government. Decades of social justice advocacy, and civil rights movements have overturned laws that promoted outright exclusion. However, powerful policymakers and power brokers have continued to invoke strategic barriers to the ballot by prohibiting traditionally disenfranchised communities from influencing political outcomes.

In 2020 it was estimated that 5.2 million U.S. citizens could not vote due to a felony conviction (Uggen & Fettig, 2020). Disenfranchisement is not only limited to individuals in prison. At least four states disenfranchise all prisoners and parolees, 16 states limit the vote of those in prison, on parole, or on probation, and 11 states disenfranchise individual’s post-incarceration. Around 33 million U.S. citizens were purged from voter rolls between 2014 and 2018 (Jackson & Daley, 2020). Gerrymandering in states like Georgia, Michigan,Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin have been persistent problems. Nearly 59 million U.S. citizens live in states where the party with control of the legislature received less votes in 2018. Voter disenfranchisement has created a crisis in American democracy.

The U.S. 2020 election cycle was ripe with controversy and contention. The Trump Team pushed the narrative of widespread voter fraud while right wing organizations and surrogates for President Trump challenged the validity of mail-in ballots and attempted to decertify voting outcomes. Voter advocacy groups countered with suits of their own. The N.A.A.C.P. charged the Trump Team and the Republicans with violating both the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act. Rock the Vote, Voto Latino, Common Cause, Map Light and Free Press challenged President Trump’s executive order which sought to end liability protections for social media platforms.

Incarcerating Democracy

We suggest the following strategies for countering voter suppression:

1. Increase Voting Rights Advocacy for Citizens with Felony Convictions

2. Organize Legal Teams

3. Implement Voter Education Programs

4. Expand Grassroots Get Out the Vote Efforts

5. Utilize Independent News Outlets

Incarcerating Democracy

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