On behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which led a U.N. panel on voter disenfranchisement in the U.S., Miller called on the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Racism to “investigate racially discriminatory election laws” and urged the council “to examine these practices and make recommendations that will restore the political and voting rights of all citizens with particular focus on the formerly incarcerated.”
There are nearly 5.9 million working people in the U.S. who are denied the right to vote because they were convicted at one time on a felony charge.
“More than 2 million are African-American,” Miller said, “yet African-Americans make up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population.”
According to the Sentencing Project, that is one out of every 13 Blacks of voting age. In three states—Florida, Kentucky and Virginia—the figure is one in five.
After the overthrow of slavery in the Civil War, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution of 1870 guaranteed former slaves the right to vote. But poll taxes, literacy tests and other counterrevolutionary measures imposed shortly thereafter—part of the overthrow of progressive Radical Reconstruction governments in the South and the imposition of Jim Crow segregation—blocked its realization for the vast majority.
Kemba Smith Pradia, an advocate for rights of ex-prisoners, was among several others who spoke on the NAACP panel. She quoted a 1901 speech by Virginia state Democratic delegate Carter Glass saying these voting restrictions “will eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than 5 years, so that in no single county … will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.”
These anti-working-class voter restrictions—including felony disenfranchisement—were beaten back by the rise of the massive proletarian movement for Black rights in the 1950s and ’60s. In particular, it forced the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which barred states from adopting laws that had a racist impact on the right to vote.
Over the last few years there has been a growing campaign to re-impose voter restrictions. Historically bipartisan and originally pressed by Democrats, these efforts today are largely being led by Republican politicians seeking immediate electoral advantage.
In 14 states new laws have been passed that include 25 measures aimed at restricting access to registering and voting.
These measures include requiring state-issued photo identification for registration, lengthening residency requirements and broader denial of those convicted of a felony.
“There are 2.4 million people in prison or jail in this country today,” Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s senior vice president for advocacy and one of its delegates to the Human Rights Council meeting, told the Militant. “The U.S. is the largest incarcerator in the world. Six hundred thousand are released each year, many of whom will not have a voice or vote because they will be disenfranchised. Forty percent of those will be African-Americans.”
“As the criminal justice system has expanded, so too has its impact on the right to vote,” Mark Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, told the Militant.
‘We need to fight for big gov’t job program’: SWP pres. candidate speaks in UK
‘It’s what workers and farmers do, not elections, that matters’
SWP vice pres. candidate joins Chicago protest
Romney-Obama debate: ‘Rich do fine either way’
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