Last year, Senator Rand Paul said before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
“If I told you that one out of three African-American males is forbidden by law from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago. Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting because of the War on Drugs.”
According to The Sentencing Project, about 1 in every 13 African-Americans cannot vote due to felony convictions. The overwhelming majority of these convictions are due to the war on drugs, where someone who might have made a mistake in their youth can lose the right to vote for the rest of their lives.
The war on drugs is tragic for many reasons, including federal laws that often make non-violent offenders serve longer sentences than those convicted of rape or murder. But the notion that someone who has served their sentence should be stripped of the right to one of the most basic constitutional rights indefinitely undermines the principles of republican democracy.
The loss of voting rights disproportionately affects the black community because arrest rates for non-violent drug offenses are also disproportionate, despite both white and black Americans using marijuana at about the same rate.
Among all Americans, 1 in 40 can’t vote due to voter disenfranchisement laws. Obviously, black Americans are bearing the worst brunt of these unjust policies.
Imagine having to explain to your daughter or son why you can’t vote, years after you’ve done your time? Imagine the indignity of not being treated like a full member of society for something as trivial as being caught with a marijuana cigarette decades ago.
It happens, and far more than you might think.
Rand Paul said on Meet the Press Sunday, “If we’re the party of family values and keeping families together, and the party that believes in redemption and second chances, we should be for letting people have the right to vote back…”
He’s right. If George W. Bush’s idea of “compassionate conservatism” was to grow government, we need to show that today’s Republican Party, a more libertarian Republican Party, can be compassionate by getting rid of stupid laws.
And giving 1 in 13 black Americans their right to vote back seems like a good place to start.