Republican and Democratic politicians across the country are deeply divided over restoring the right to vote to felons, a political fracture that affects millions of convicted criminals. In Iowa and Kentucky, Democratic governors issued executive orders to restore voting rights to many felons, only to have them rescinded by Republican governors who succeeded them. Democratic legislators in 29 states proposed more than 270 bills over the last six years that would have made it easier for some felons to vote, but very few passed, especially in legislatures controlled by Republicans, News21 found in an analysis of state legislative measures nationwide.
Debate and decisions about restoring voting rights to felons often follow partisan lines because felons, particularly African Americans, are viewed as more likely to vote Democratic than Republican, voting rights experts told News21.
Nationwide, one in 13 black voters is disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, compared with to one in 56 nonblack voters, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization based in Washington that works on criminal justice sentencing policies and racial disparities.