Conned

By Sasha Abramsky. <i>The New Press.</i> $25.95.

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Due to their past felony convictions, roughly half a million Floridians did not have the right to vote in the 2000 presidential election. If just 1 in 50 of those ex-cons had voted, and if 60 percent of them had voted Democratic, George W. Bush might be nothing more than a retired governor today. This simple calculus inspired Sasha Abramsky to examine the state laws that prevent huge numbers of largely poor and black ex-felons from voting, and which he concludes help Republicans keep winning elections.

Abramsky’s most persuasive material is his interviews with former prisoners who see voting as a way to become whole again. Given the right to return to the polling place, says a Tennessee man, “I’d probably stand there freezing. I’d stand in awe in the booth all day long.” Some rehabilitated ex-cons do get the franchise back—mostly the wealthy and educated, who have the money and savvy to navigate the maze of appeals, hearings, and applications required to get a fresh start.

But Abramsky doesn’t convincingly prove that a large percentage of ex-felons would vote if they had the chance, and, despite exceptions such as Florida in 2000, he can’t definitively show that these new voters would swing elections. The bigger issue here is not so much the political alienation of ex-cons, but a system that is good at locking people away and bad at putting them back into society. Most of the 630,000 convicts released every year live in states where employers and landlords can discriminate against them based on their rap sheets; if they’re drug offenders, they can’t get food stamps or student loans, and will probably have a hard time getting a driver’s license. Voting may be a fundamental right, but what good is it when so many cards are stacked against you?

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate