[JURIST] Millions of Americans have been effectively disenfranchised because of criminal convictions, according to a report [text; press release] released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] and the Brennan Center for Justice [academic website]. The report found that state and county election officials receive little or no training regarding the applicable laws, resulting in widespread misunderstanding. It continued:
De facto disenfranchisement has devastating long-term effects in communities across the country. Once a single local election official misinforms a citizen that he is not eligible to vote because of a past conviction, it is unlikely that citizen will ever follow up or make a second inquiry. Without further public education or outreach, the citizen will mistakenly believe that he is ineligible to vote for years, decades, or maybe the rest of his life. And that same citizen may pass along that same inaccurate information to his peers, family members and neighbors, creating a lasting ripple of de facto disenfranchisement across his community.Another ACLU report [text] released Wednesday found that voter registration forms across the country inadequately explain the voting eligibility of ex-convicts. McClatchy Newspapers has more.
Even prisoners may vote in Maine and Vermont, while Kentucky and Virginia permanently revoke felons' voting rights. Elsewhere, the ACLU-Brennan Center report noted, "varied state laws form a patchwork across the country." The ACLU's Voting Rights Project [advocacy website] is active in securing voting rights for ex-felons. In July, the ACLU filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] challenging a provision of the Alabama Constitution that prevents felons convicted of "crimes of moral turpitude" from voting. In February, the ACLU filed suit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in federal court challenging a Tennessee law that requires convicted felons to pay "all outstanding legal financial obligations" before their voting rights are restored.