Felony Disenfranchisement in the US

Defining Felony Disenfranchisement

The American society applies various state and federal laws to pursue the idea of felony disenfranchisement. According to Staufenbeil (2020), the concept would refer to the regulatory mechanism of barring people who have committed crimes in the past from engaging in the electoral process. The United States’ government is known for implementing such a strategy to dictate the manner in which felons, whether in prisons or released, vote for their candidates. This issue remains a critical factor in determining the voting patterns of different ethnic and racial groups. Nonetheless, felon disenfranchisement remains a common issue promoted in different nations across the globe. This systemic issue has also been observed to affect past criminals who have already reformed.

In the United States, states tend to have diverse policies regarding the issue of felony disenfranchisement. Different state governments have been adopting new laws that dictate the manner in which citizens promote the practice. Padilla (2020) indicates that around 2.5 percent of individuals within the voting age bracket remain disenfranchised based on their felony histories. Members of the public believe that there is a need to allow criminals who are no longer incarcerated to be allowed to vote. Some analysts also acknowledge that the practice it known to affect racial representation and engagement in political affairs. While the primary purpose of this strategy is expected to be neutral, additional predicaments have emerged whereby majority of the affected individuals are from marginalized populations (Staufenbeil, 2020). This analysis reveals that felony disenfranchisement will continue to remain a dynamic issue that calls for new reflections to meet the demands of the greatest majority.

Origin and Present Use in the American Legal System

The history of felony disenfranchisement in the American legal system dates back to the year 1972. During this period, Kentucky introduced unique laws that were intended to discourage criminals from engaging in the voting process. By 1840, four regions or states in the country had gone further to adopt similar policies. During the American Civil War, historians indicate that the number of states relying on the power of such laws had increased to twenty four (Padilla, 2020). After the end of this upheaval, majority of the citizens began to view such laws as discriminatory and aimed at disenfranchising the African American community. The existing Black Codes targeting petty offenses and misdemeanors among members of this race led to denial of voting rights. Presently, Kentucky, Virginia, and Iowa are the only states with permanent felony disenfranchisement policies.

Today, the American legal system relies on the Fourteenth Amendment to pursue or promote felony disenfranchisement. In Richardson v. Ramirez of 1974, the American Supreme Court indicated that the existing constitution allowed states to identify the specific crimes that could support the idea of felon disenfranchisement (Staufenbeil, 2020). In majority of the states, individuals would get their voting rights back after completing their sentences. Although the practice remains diverse, a unique trajectory is notable whereby more states are promoting the notion of restoration. The latest statistics reveal that around 5.8 million criminals would not participate in the voting process because of the application of felon disenfranchisement (Staufenbeil, 2020). Due to the legal transformations experienced in this country, chances are high that more people associated with felonies in their past lives would be able to have their voting rights restored. Such a development would help the country pursue most of its social, economic, and political goals.

Effects on Democracy

The notions of democracy are designed in such a way that they allow citizens to elect their favorite candidates who present their ideologies. Unfortunately, the existence of barriers that prevent universal suffrage could be inappropriate for democracy. Such a predicament could skew the voting process and trigger a scenario whereby the elected people do not address the expectations of the population they represent. The American setting presents unique statistics to explain how felony disenfranchisement affects democracy negatively. For instance, these policies appear to disorient or reduce the overall percentage of African Americans who engage in voting. Staufenbeil (2020) reveals that one in every 13 individuals belonging to the African American community would not participate in the electoral process. The situation is different for the other population since felony disenfranchisement only affects 1 in 56 (Carroll, 2020. The adoption and continuous application of this law makes it hard for different racial groups to achieve their social and economic goals.

Based on these trends, the American democratic process has remained imbalanced or incapable of allowing some racial groups to vote for the most favorable candidates. This scenario could explain why more neighborhoods characterized by members of minority races take longer to develop. The elected people, in most of the cases, do not promote the goals and expectations of the electorate (Sebastian et al., 2020). Additionally, this practice influences national politics in such a way that members of marginalized communities cannot take up more senior positions. These challenges explain why sustainable changes are needed to reconsider felony disenfranchisement and make democracy more applicable and meaningful to all citizens.

America’s History of Discrimination and Relation to Felony Disenfranchisement

The American history can shed more light and help analysts learn more about the true position of felony disenfranchisement in this country. To begin with, these policies are linked directly to colonial America whereby more African Americans were treated harshly or required to offer cheap labor. During the same period, states like Kentucky introduced the infamous Black Codes that were intended to punish children of former slaves for demeanors and petty criminal activities. Such policies would be extended in such a way that they would result in felony disenfranchisement. In the next centuries, most of the states implement similar laws since the existing social and economic forces had locked out most of the minority groups (Staufenbeil, 2020). The increasing traction and applicability of felony disenfranchisement would make it easier for more leaders to discriminate against marginalized much further.

In the recent past, historians have linked incarceration to the issues of discrimination and felony disenfranchisement. This society has been observed to have higher incarceration rates for African Americans and other minority groups. Due to the presence of felony disenfranchisement laws, the complexity of discrimination increases since more people are usually unable to engage in various democratic processes. The government and state departments have also failed to pursue revolutionary or progressive policies to ensure that criminals in prisons are encouraged to engage in voting processes (Staufenbeil, 2020). From this analysis, it becomes clear that the history of discrimination in America could be understood much better if the researchers focus on the issue of felony disenfranchisement. The continued application of this law remains a strong indicator of the complicated question of racial prejudice in this country.


Carroll, M. C. Y. (2020). Locked in and locked out: Applying Charming Betsy to U.S. felony disenfranchisement. Yale Law & Policy Review, 38(1), 397-443. Web.

Padilla, G. (2020). Disenfranchisement of people with felony records and the racial discrimination behind it. Public Interest Law Reporter, 26(1), 111-134. Web.

Sebastian, T., Lang, D., & Short, C. E. (2020). Democracy, if you can afford it: How financial conditions are undermining the right to vote. UCLA Criminal Justice Law Review, 4(1), 79-116. Web.

Staufenbeil, K. (2020). With liberty and justice for some: How felony disenfranchisement undermines American democracy. Themis: Research Journal of Justice Studies and Forensic Science, 8(6), 89-108. Web.

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DemoEssays. "Felony Disenfranchisement in the US." April 7, 2023. https://demoessays.com/felony-disenfranchisement-in-the-us/.