Conned

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

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


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?

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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