For Martha Stewart, prison meant “rehabilitation.” Her image of a steely bitch has been replaced by that of a humble person who did her time. Her stock has gone through the roof. She is the star of a new reality TV show.
But some 1.5 million convicted felons are still denied the right to vote after completing their prison sentences. There are 14 states in which disenfranchisement can last for a lifetime. A study by the Sentencing Project finds that in 11 of these states, fewer than 3 percent of the disenfranchised people have had their rights restored in recent years. In all 14 states, some or all persons convicted of a felony lose their voting rights even after completion of their sentence, and often for life.
In Southern states, where felony convictions are often just a device to keep blacks off the voting rolls, the situation is the worst. In Kentucky, the governor requires a felon to submit three character references, along with an application to regain the right to vote. In Florida, felons are required to undergo a hearing with the governor and his cabinet before they get to vote. The unfair and cumbersome Florida system has blocked all but 48,000 felons out of the state’s total of 613,514 between 1998 and 2004. In Mississippi, only 107 ex-felons regained voting privileges out of 82,002 felons who had completed their sentences.