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The right to vote: not inclusive for millions of convicted felons

The term “universal suffrage” is less than absolute in the United States. In fact, it is unquestionably qualified for a number of people in Missouri and nationally.

A good number of people. The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization focused on reform in the criminal justice system, reports that more than five million Americans face voting bans owing to criminal convictions.

In some states, that prohibition extends for a lifetime to all convicted offenders, even those deemed ex-felons who have fully complied with all sentencing requirements. In just a handful-plus of Southern states, that broad bar effectively cuts off the voting rights of about 50 percent of all ex-felons in the country who face voting restrictions.

Missouri’s bar is in line with a wide swath of other states that ban voting only for inmates, parolees and probationers. Even with that standard, voting rights -- constitutionally mandated -- are denied to a startlingly high number of American adults.

It is estimated that voting ban laws for felons disenfranchised about 1.2 million people in 1976. The five million-plus persons barred from voting today obviously spells a huge increase, which many commentators readily ascribe to harsh sentencing laws focused on drug crimes. We have addressed those laws in past blogs, noting, among other things, current sentencing reform that has been advocated and is currently underway (please see our August 15, 2013, blog entry).

Every criminal defendant faces challenges and needs strong and effective legal representation. A criminal conviction often brings not just a prison sentence, but also post-sentencing repercussions that can include limited employment opportunities, curtailed educational placement and other exactions.

Voter disenfranchisement is a prominent case in point.

Source: MSNBC, "Presumed guilty: Ex-felons face barriers to voting rights," Ari Melber, Nov. 4, 2013

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