As voters in this year's presidential election head to the polls on November 8, there are about 6.1 million citizens who will be effectively barred from casting a ballot due to felony convictions, according to a new report by advocacy group The Sentencing Project. That figure is larger this year than for any other election in the country's history. Nearly 5 million of those citizens have finished their sentences and have returned to their communities.
The report highlights the ways in which the U.S. prison system, which incarcerates more people than that of any other country in the world, operates as a tool of disenfranchisement. Despite the efforts of some states—such as Maryland, which recently extended voting rights to people on probation or parole—the voter statistics of many others resemble a near-Jim Crow level of disenfranchisement. In four states—including Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee—more than 1 in 5 African Americans are unable to vote, largely due to discriminatory policing and sentencing practices.
"It is clear that racial disparities in the criminal justice system translate into disparities in felony disenfranchisement," said Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, in a statement. "These policies often exert a life-long adverse impact on the socioeconomic life prospects of African Americans."