The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and basketball star Lebron James in the fight to give convicted felons voting rights.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, the ACLU argued that felony disenfranchisement has “racist roots” and demanded that prisoners be given the right to vote.
“Felony disenfranchisement means that SIX MILLION Americans are unable to vote because they are incarcerated, completing probation or parole, or have a past felony conviction. Our right to vote shouldn’t be taken away,” the ACLU tweeted.
Felony disenfranchisement means that SIX MILLION Americans are unable to vote because they are incarcerated, completing probation or parole, or have a past felony conviction.
Our right to vote shouldn’t be taken away.
— ACLU (@ACLU) July 30, 2020
The ACLU then shared a thread from 2019, which argued that felony disenfranchisement has “white supremacist” origins, as if the government picks and chooses which prisoners vote based on race. The argument goes that after the Civil War, the government provided incentives to incarcerate black people for forced labor.
The full thread:
Preventing prisoners from voting might seem like common sense. But felony disenfranchisement is actually a policy of white supremacy. Let’s break this down. When and why did America decide that people convicted of a crime should not vote?
Before the Civil War, voting rights weren’t linked to convictions. America did not incarcerate in large numbers — and besides, most of the population was not even afforded the right to vote.
With the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, slavery was abolished and Black men got the right to vote. However, an exception in the 13th Amendment still allows for slavery as punishment for a crime. This exception led to “Black Code” laws that essentially criminalized Black life.
Those convicted under Black Code laws could be leased out to do work, providing huge incentives to criminalize and incarcerate Black people. From 1850 to 1870, the percentage of non-white prisoners in Alabama went from 2% to 74%. At least 90% of prison laborers were Black.
After incarceration, the next step was felony disenfranchisement. In South Carolina, a newspaper said that whites needed to avoid being swept away at the polls by the Black vote. In Alabama, manipulating the ballot was justified to avoid the “menace of Negro domination.”
Today, one out of every 13 Black adults is disenfranchised. In some states, it’s one out of five. In total, 2.2 million Black citizens are banned from voting.
Preventing prisoners from voting might seem like common sense. But felony disenfranchisement is actually a policy of white supremacy.
Let's break this down. When and why did America decide that people convicted of a crime should not vote?
— ACLU (@ACLU) May 7, 2019
Though felony disenfranchisement may indeed have been abused in the past, the ACLU did not address the underlying societal need to disenfranchise criminals that have committed violent crimes. Does the BTK serial killer Dennis Rader, for instance, deserve the right to vote? Ted Bundy? Charles Manson? Philosophical consistency with such a position often opens itself up so easily to reductio ad absurdum; the honest advocates, at least, go so far as to admit that such criminals should be given voting rights.
At a CNN town hall last year, Sen. Bernie Sanders actually said that voting rights should be extended not just to convicted felons who have already served time, but to men and women currently sitting behind bars, which would include: murderers, kidnappers, rapists, child molesters, thieves, and terrorists – like the Boston Marathon bomber. When CNN moderator Chris Cuomo asked Sanders to clarify if he actually meant to extend voting rights to people who have committed some of the vilest crimes on the book, the socialist senator from Vermont doubled down.
“Look, this is what I believe. Do you believe in Democracy?” Sanders asked at the town hall. “Do you believe that every single American, 18 years of age or older who is an American citizen, has the right to vote? Once you start chipping away at that, believe me, that’s what our Republican governors all over this country are doing. I believe every single person does have the right to vote.”