Oct. 09, 2012 -- Four states permanently disenfranchise ex-felons, including three swing states that could help determine the outcome of this year's presidential election.
Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia require a decree by the governor or a clemency board to restore voting rights, reports the Huffington Post, and it only happens after a waiting period, the payment of any required fines or fees, and the submission of an application for review.
Seven other states across the country - Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming - allow some people with felony convictions to vote. As the Huffington Post notes, Arizona does not permanently disenfranchise a person unless he has committed two or more felonies. After that, only a pardon or restoration from a judge can restore voting rights.
While some argue the removal of voting rights is warranted, others say that the disenfranchisement impacts already vulnerable voting groups, specifically Latinos, African-Americans and the poor.
A The Sentencing Project report notes that one in every 40 American adults is disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, and that number has spiked from previous decades. It was about 1.2 million in 1976, and rose to more than 5.85 million in 2010. The numbers in Florida are far more startling. Nearly a quarter of Florida's voting-age black population is not eligible to vote because of a felony record.
"I think there's clearly a racial bias, and we know that there is a disproportionate racial impact," Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, told the Huffington Post. "When you marginalize all of these people, you make it much more difficult to rehabilitate them. It doesn't serve anybody's interests."
While McDonald said felon disenfranchisement has long been a tool to suppress the black vote, it also disproportionately impacts other racial minorities, including Latinos.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, recently reversed laws passed by previous Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, that automatically restored voting rights to felons once they were no longer under state supervision.
From the disenfranchisement of ex-felons to controversial photo ID laws, and the elimination of early voting in some places, the issue of who can vote and when and where they are allowed to cast ballots has been a key theme this election cycle. While many voter ID laws have been shot down, some, including in Pennsylvania, have been postponed or appealed, meaning the battle over voting rights will not end with the election cycle in November.