War on Drugs or War on Democracy?

In one week, most of us will head to the polls to cast our vote. This year’s decisive election will mean that every vote will count, especially in swing states where there is a tight race between the candidates. Unfortunately, 5.85 million Americans will not be able to voice their political views this November due to voting regulation laws which deny convicted felons the right to vote in most states. Since the 1970s, there has been a 500% increase in felon disenfranchisement due to the War on Drugs, which disproportionately affects poor, African American and Latino communities. This means that 7.66% – 1 out of every 13 African Americans – will be barred from the vote, an estimate that is four times greater than the rate for people who are not of African American descent. Out of the 10 states with the highest disenfranchisement rates, 7 are in the South. Florida, a state that is almost always critical to an election victory, has the highest disenfranchisement rate in the country with 23.32% of its African American population unable to vote. Disenfranchisement laws have swung Presidential elections

Graph from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009.

How then, can ex-offenders reintegrate with society when they are denied access to welfare, public housing, employment opportunities, educational benefits and the right to vote? Is that fair?

The recent release of the movie The House I Live In explores the Drug War’s lasting impact on communities and is showing at theaters around the country.It is possible to become enfranchised, but the process is often bureaucratic and lengthy. While there isn’t time to go through this process before next Tuesday, there is no better time to start. Organizations like the Sentencing Project, which is dedicated to advocating for prison reform and policy against felon disenfranchisement, and the Advancement Project can help you in this process.

by Emilie Romero

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3 Comments

  1. Leila Karkia

     /  November 3, 2012

    I used to think that “The War on Drugs” was a righteous cause– one that nobody could argue against. However, over the years it has become painfully evident that this war, like the many before it, stems not from noble intentions but that it is in fact just another money making scheme devised to exploit humans for profit and monetary gain. This war wages on under the guise of morality and hope that we, as a nation, will be clean from drug abuse and free from the demons of addiction but in fact the war keeps us in a sad, sick cycle of greed, corruption and destruction. Emilie makes a great point in recognizing the detriment of sitting idle on the sidelines when it is our civic responsibility to ask the right questions for those who have been disenfranchised and can not ask it on their own behalf. Can we shine the light on this misguided 40+ year war that undermines democracy, justice and fairness for the sake of money, power and image for the elite? Can we deconstruct the system that has been designed to oppress the poor and minority communities? There are profound human rights violations and not only do we need to tell our government that we must reexamine and revise the war on drugs but we also need to realize there is an entire population of people that have been destroyed by the corruption of the past 40 years. In order to get the governments attention we need to get the mass’ attention. We need to educate voters on the issues that are masked by officials that present minimal and sugar coated information about the issues discussed in The House I Live In. Truth will not set you free… it will start a revolution and it is our responsibility to set this revolution in motion for the future of our civil society.

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  2. In states with strict disenfranchisement laws, a citizen could write a bad check
    for $500 dollars, be convicted of a felony and never vote again. Prisoners and ex-felons are the true beneficiaries of structural racism and institutional discrimination. Denying prisoners and ex-felons the right to vote, contradicts the principles of democracy, which claim that citizens should have the chance to change oppressive and abusive political systems. Without the ability to vote against inequitable policies, right-winged conservatives will be able to continue their discriminatory and structurally racist platforms.The harshest disenfranchisement laws have remained in states like Florida, Iowa and Virginia, which are critical swing-states in the upcoming election.

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