More than 81,000 Arkansans can't vote due to felony convictions, report says
Early voting is underway in Arkansas, but thousands of people here will not be able to vote in the midterms due to a past felony conviction.
Research by The Sentencing Project said tens of thousands of Arkansans are among the 4.6 million Americans with felony convictions who are denied voting rights.
Nicole D. Porter, senior director of advocacy for The Sentencing Project, said it affects one in every 50 adults, and in Arkansas, more than 8% of those who cannot vote are African Americans who are on parole or probation.
"The total number of people disenfranchised in Arkansas just numbers over 81,000," Porter reported. "The total number is 81,658 individuals with felony convictions will be disenfranchised during the midterm election this year."
Under Arkansas law, you lose your voting rights when you are convicted of a felony. But voting rights can be restored once a person completes their sentence, including any prison term, probation and parole, and pays off any related fines, fees and restitution amounts.
Porter added her organization participated in a national poll with other criminal legal reform and democracy partners, and found a majority of voters support restoring voting rights for all, including those completing their sentences, inside or outside of prison. She added other states are working to expand voting rights to those affected, but not in Arkansas.
"The issue needs to be repealing these felony disenfranchising laws, and allowing people to participate in the franchise," Porter asserted. "There are active efforts this year to expand voting rights to people sentenced to prison in Illinois and Oregon; emerging coalitions, emerging campaigns, in New Jersey and Connecticut. "
Porter noted The Sentencing Project's goal is to add Arkansas to the list. She suggested Arkansas consider ending its felony disenfranchisement policies and allow people -- even those still in prison -- regardless of their crime or conviction, to vote. Critics of the idea countered people who commit serious crimes should lose their voting rights.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.