Photo and Story by Bryanna Weinstein/Contributing Writer
As part of an ongoing series of Fall Honors Lectures on the subtopic of “Suffrage,” students listened in on a lecture pertaining to felon disenfranchisement this past Monday.
Professor Pippa Holloway, a history professor at MTSU, walked students through her research of the past, present and future of disenfranchisement through voting.
“So, what we’re talking about here, most basically, is losing the right to vote because of a criminal conviction,” she began.
While her lecture focused on the history of felon disenfranchisement and what could happen going forward, Holloway began by discussing the present. Currently, 6.1 million Americans cannot vote because of a felony conviction. About 77% of Americans are not currently in prison, but are still affected by the felony they were charged with.
Tennessee is one of the handful of states where you lose your voting rights permanently. We rank as one of the top ten states for felon disenfranchisement. “Tennessee disfranchises 7.1% of the total population due to a prior conviction,” Holloway states.
That is not a good thing. Of course, there are laws here in Tennessee to reinstate voting rights but the process can be complicated. Holloway went into the lengthy process that left many students confused but that was her point.
This confusing process can make it difficult to regain status as a voting citizen, which also significantly impacts elections. That impact was also felt racially in the past with things like the 13th Amendment, a system of convict labor and the abandonment of the ideal of reform and rehabilitation.
But, Holloway had some optimism about Criminal Justice reform which is inevitably weaved together with this disenfranchisement.
“Incarceration rates are dropping. Rates are still high but they’re on the decline. Due in part of marijuana decriminalization and bipartisan support for decreasing incarceration through the First Step Act,” Holloway explained.
Many states are also expanding voting access for ex-felons just in the last two years, but she also had some pessimistic views about voting rights in the future.
Things like voter ID laws, citizenship and redistricting are all things that could hinder voting rights in general.
“Today, we’ve entered a period that I call ‘mass disenfranchisement,’ in which voter ID laws that are increasingly complicated, requirements that you prove citizenship with your ID, birth certificate requirements mean that people lose the right to vote for all kinds of reasons,” Holloway explained.
We are the outlier in terms of voting and voting rights when it comes to felons. Many other countries, such as England, don’t even worry about things like this. Only time will tell how the US fixes its voting system for felons going forward.
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