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The Polls Never Opened: America's History of Disenfranchising African Americans  

In today's America, one out of thirteen Black Americans can't vote because of their status as felons—four times the rate of other Americans.. Many of these people are in jail because of non-violent drug-related offenses. The consequences of the strictest policies are significant. There are four states — Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia — in which more than one in five Black citizens cannot vote. February 2017 report by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky found that, due to the state’s lifetime ban on voting for people with felony convictions, more than 300,000 residents were disenfranchised, an increase of 68 percent since 2006—including more than a quarter of its black population, the highest such rate in the nation. The burden of felony disenfranchisement does not fall equally on all American citizens. Rather, our criminal justice system and its policies as well as our national policies have a significant disproportionate impact on Black and brown people. 


The systemic disenfranchisement of people of color is nothing new. Slavery kept Black Americans from accessing civic rights for hundreds of years. In 1787, a black person was considered 3/5 of a human when the government was deciding how to count a regional population. In the Reconstruction era, many states enacted voting restrictions like poll taxes and literacy tests that made it hard for Black people to get to the polls. Racist groups like the KKK who lynched and terrorized Black voters only exacerbated this injustice. A 1952 law gave Asian Americans the right to vote and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 abolished poll taxes and literacy tests, but the fight was not over. Following the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments—which,  banned slavery, established birthright U.S. citizenship; and gave black men the right to vote—states passed a flood of new or amended bans. According to a report by The Sentencing Project, some states tailored their laws specifically to apply to crimes thought to be committed more often by Black people—and excluded crimes thought to be committed more often by white people. Additionally, states with a higher proportion of Black residents—like Mississippi and South Carolina—were more likely to pass harsher restrictions. 48 out of 50 states still have felony disenfranchisement laws . 

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Courtesy of The Sentencing Project

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