February 19, 2019
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Felons, voting and going against the grain in Maine and Vermont

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Bangor residents cast their votes at the Cross Insurance Center on Election Day earlier this month.

Maine is an outlier when it comes to felons and voting.

The Pine Tree State and Vermont are the only ones that have continued to allow inmates to vote while they’re incarcerated. Similarly, there have never been restrictions in either state on the voting rights of convicted felons after they have been released from prison.

Not so throughout much of the United States.

“[S]tate felony bans exploded in number during the late 1860s and 1870s, particularly in the wake of the Fifteenth Amendment, which ostensibly guaranteed black Americans the right to vote,” writes Brent Staples in an Editorial Observer piece in today’s New York Times.

The piece highlights Maine and Vermont as outliers. Staples highlights research that found states with large black populations were more likely to remove voting rights from those convicted of felonies.

“[T]he larger the state’s black population, the more likely the state was to pass the most stringent laws that permanently denied people convicted of crimes the right to vote,” Staples writes. “These bans were subsequently strengthened as the Jim Crow era began to take hold.”

“The debate looks a lot different in Maine and Vermont, states where there are no black populations to speak of and racial demonization does not come into the equation. Both states place no restrictions on voting rights for people convicted of even serious crimes and have steadfastly resisted efforts to revoke a system that allows inmates to vote from prison.”

The Maine Legislature last year revisited the issue of allowing inmates to vote while incarcerated and opted, mostly on party lines, to keep inmates’ voting rights in place. Maine Republicans raised the issue this year in the 2nd Congressional District race, calling Democratic candidate Emily Cain “extreme” for voting to keep those voting rights in place.

Read the full piece on The New York Times website.

 



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