This year marks the 50th anniversary since the passing of the Voter Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965 which promised to protect the voting rights of minorities throughout the U.S.
The Voter Rights Act is cited as one of the greatest accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement. In recent years the protections that civil rights activists fought so hard for have been challenged by laws that place stricter requirements on voters, particularly in the south.
The 2012 election brought out the most Southern Black voters in history, which contributed to the reelection of President Barack Obama.
Right-wing lawmakers have made efforts to end same-day voter registration and take away opportunities for early voting as well as implement laws requiring voter I.D. at the polls, all of which are direct hindrances to minority voters.
Several civil rights groups and social justice advocates, such as Black & Brown People Vote, are striving to maintain the liberties afforded to people of color by the Voting Rights Act and keep minorities from being discouraged from going to the polls.
In the midst of the Voting Rights Act’s anniversary and the aforementioned issues surrounding it, the voting rights of prisoners are also being explored.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that election officials will reverse its policy that prevents 45,000 felons from voting.
The state law has previously prohibited felons from voting when they are incarcerated, on parole, and/or under community supervision. Now, the state would allow felons the right to vote while on community supervision, also referred to as probation.
This decision was partially motivated by the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, Padilla said.
Read More: Selma 50th Anniversary: How Far We've Come
“It is not lost on me that persons of color are disproportionately represented in our correctional institutions and that undeniable disparities exist,” he said.
Padilla’s announcement opens the door to an even larger, more confusing web involving voter rights for felons.
Civil rights groups have continuously fought for reform in the criminal justice system and restoring prisoners voting rights after they’ve served their time, but the focus is generally on low-level criminals.
Would these groups push just as hard for convicted rapists and murderers to be given voting rights?
And while we are emphasizing the fact that rights should be restored to those prisoners who served their time and are under “community supervision” are we talking about just probation or parole as well?
Would these felons get their voting rights restored immediately after being released from prison or are we maintaining restrictions that they must wait a certain number of years before being able to vote? Because many felons are repeat offenders.
While I agree that many states' current felony voting laws disproportionately affect people of color thus creating another hindrance to their ability to have a say on issues that impact them and their communities; I also recognize that this is a delicate situation that has several kinks that need smoothing before we celebrate.
Setting this precedent could lead to voting rights for all felons and the next thing we know we’ll be handing voting rights to drug lords and serial killers and I’m not sure that’s a road we want to go down.