Can Felons Vote in South Dakota?
(NPN) – You’re a felon so you can’t vote in the 2014 election that’s just one year away. Not necessarily. It depends upon where you live.
In South Dakota, according to a new report by the Sentencing Project, if you’re serving time for a felony or on parole, you can’t vote. The same in Minnesota.
Elsewhere in the northern plains, if you’re a felon or even an ex-felon in Wyoming, Iowa or Nebraska, you’re probably not able to vote.
In Montana or North Dakota, it’s just being imprisoned serving time for a felony that keeps you getting in line at the polls.
And in some New England states--Vermont and Maine--a felony on your record doesn’t prevent you from voting.
In all, according to the Sentencing Project, 5.85 million Americans are caught in a form of “civil death” that their conviction or imprisonment triggers. While nearly all states have some sort of prohibition on felons voting that isn’t necessarily the case elsewhere across the Western world.
“Almost half of European countries allow all incarcerated individuals to vote, facilitating voting within the prison or by absentee ballot,” the Sentencing Project notes. “In Canada, Israel and South Africa, courts have ruled that any conviction-based restriction of voting rights is unconstitutional.”
There has been a decades-long trend of easing restrictions on felons voting, according to the study, with 23 states removing some impediments to felon voting.
Felony disenfranchisement hasn’t always been so high in the United States. From 1960 to 1976, according to the Sentencing Project, the number felons unable to vote steadily dropped from 1,762,582 to 1,176,234. However, from 1976 to 2010, the rate increased dramatically to nearly 6 million ineligible voters in 2010, the latest year data is available.
And it isn’t people sitting in “the stir” who make up most of the ineligible voter population.
“Persons currently in prison or jail represent a minority of the total disenfranchised population,” according to the study. “In fact, 75 percent of disenfranchised voters live in their communities, either under probation or parole supervision or having completed their sentence. An estimated 2.6 million people are disenfranchised in states that restrict voting rights even after completion of sentence.”
The report did not have a breakdown by state of disenfranchised voters because of felony or post-felony status.
Some regional states, including South Dakota and Iowa, have both expanded and contracted felon voting rights.
According to the study, in Iowa, then-Governor Tom Vilsack issued an executive order in 2005 automatically restoring the voting rights of all persons who had completed their sentences, but Governor Terry Branstad rescinded this order in 2011.
In South Dakota, according to the report, in 2010, the state established new procedures to provide training and develop voter education curriculum to protect the voting rights of citizens with certain felony convictions. In 2012, the legislature revoked voting rights for persons on felony probation.
The Sentencing Project says felony disenfranchisement policies have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. The study found that one of every 13 black Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than the rest of the adult population. In three states – Florida (23 percent), Kentucky (22 percent), and Virginia (20 percent) – more than one in five Black adults is disenfranchised. In total, 2.2 million black citizens are banned from voting, according to the Sentencing Project.
This disenfranchisement, particularly among Blacks, has had an impact on U.S. elections, according to the Sentencing Project, most notably the 2000 Presidential election.
“One study found that disenfranchisement policies likely affected the results of seven U.S. Senate races from 1970 to 1998 as well as the hotly contested 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election,” the study reports. “Even if disenfranchised voters in Florida alone had been permitted to vote, Bush’s narrow victory ‘would almost certainly have been reversed.’”
Finally, while most states have some sort of restrictions on felons voting, the Sentencing Project says there is widespread national support for easing restrictions.
The Sentencing Projects says public opinion surveys show that eight in 10 U.S. residents support voting rights for citizens who have completed their sentence, and nearly two-thirds support voting rights for those on probation or parole.
The Sentencing Project is a national nonprofit organization engaged in research and advocacy on criminal justice issues.
The full report is available at http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/fd_Felony%20Disenfranchisement%20Primer.pdf
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