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Jenkins' Efforts To Protect Felony Voters Has Merit
9/30/2015 4:36:40 PM

Eugene Jenkins
By Barney Blakeney

Community activist Eugene Jenkins has never been incarcerated as a felon. The only time he’s spent behind bars has been as a protester for equal rights and opportunities. But Jenkins understands the loss of civil rights felons experience. So he’s mounted an effort to make convicted felons and others in the criminal justice system aware of their voting rights as the November 3 general elections approach.

For the past few weeks Jenkins has posted signs and placards around the greater Charleston area admonishing, “Just 55 years ago Black people went to jail and died fighting for your right to vote. Don’t let then Down!”

Jenkins efforts are not without merit. In 2001 the South Carolina House of Representatives approved a bill that would prevent convicted felons from voting for at least 15 years after their release from prison. Violent offenders permanently would lose their votes. The bill, said Black legislators, was designed to further reduce the number of Black voters. The Republican-controlled House passed the legislation with a significant majority.

More recently in 2012 the S.C. General Assembly passed voter ID legislation that in its original form could have had devastating impact. South Carolina’s voter ID law cost the state an unnecessary $3.5 million. Had it withstood legal scrutiny the law would have kept some 180,000 voters from the polls.

A 1998 report from the human rights advocacy groups The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch said felony disenfranchisement laws are having an impact unparalleled in the world.

“The racial impact of disenfranchisement laws is particularly egregious,” according to the report. Thirteen percent of African American men then were disenfranchised. Today the majority of felony convictions in the state are African American. Some 70 percent of the state’s prison inmates are African American.

S.C. American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Victoria Middleton said voter suppression efforts have continued, most noticeably in recent years, vote ID legislation.

Voting should be made more easy, Middleton said. Convicted felons should have the ability to regain their voting rights. There are no estimates how many felons have been impacted since the initiation of America’s “War on Drugs”, she said.

In South Carolina the right to vote is restored to convicted felons after their full sentence is completed, including probation, parole and prison.

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Roger Clegg, Ctr for Equal Opportunity Submitted: 9/30/2015
If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in.

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