Law \ Legal

How the ‘Disenfranchisement Maze’ Bars Black Women from the Ballot


Black women are leading the fight to secure and safeguard voting rights in the U.S. Yet criminal law has historically excluded Black women from voting by regulating when a person convicted of a crime may be eligible to vote, argues Washington and Lee University School of Law professor Carla Laroche.

In a Boston University Law Review article, Laroche argues that such felony disenfranchisement is tantamount to voter suppression — and, as Black women continue to face more barriers to electoral participation, demands urgent dismantling. 

“While Black women and other advocates have led attempts to abolish voter suppression schemes, permanently, they have yet to succeed through the judicial, executive, and legislative branches,” Laroche writes.

“The ostensible reasons for these voter suppression schemes vary, but the outcome has been the devaluing of the interests of Black women and their communities while preserving the voting priorities of white communities.”

As a case study, Laroche concentrates on Florida’s “disenfranchisement maze,” shorthand for the state’s policies and regulations that have historically excluded Black women from the ballot box. These policies and regulations took shape under former Governor Rick Scott, who passed a policy that enforced waiting periods, application requirements, and individual approval for people with felony convictions who were seeking the right to vote.

The policy had a disproportionate impact on Black women — a group that has historically helmed the fight for voting rights.

“Black women are described as the ‘unsung heroes’ of the right to vote,” Laroche writes. “Nevertheless, while people across the United States have lauded Black women for saving the U.S. democracy after elections, they have also failed to prevent Black women’s vote from being suppressed.”

Plenty of U.S. states, Florida included, ban people with felony convictions from voting, unless they satisfy “confusing criteria,” Laroche writes. Although forms of disenfranchisement vary — some states allow people to vote immediately after release, while others must release post-release conditions related to probation — they all amount to voter suppression.

The disenfranchisement maze has even led to the prosecutions of Crystal Mason and Pamela Mason, two Black women convicted for submitting a provisional ballot in Texas  and attempting to register to vote in Tennessee while ineligible.

After laying out the extent to which Black women are denied voting rights, Laroche argues that state and federal legislative, executive, and judicial branches must pass laws that give Black women with criminal convictions the full right to vote.

“If they do not abolish these voter suppression laws, then the United States will continue to disregard Black women’s inability to access their voting rights, knowingly, and racism and sexism will continue to dictate who has political power as it always has throughout its history,” Laroche writes.

To download the full article, click here.

Eva Herscowitz is a TCR contributor




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