The NAACP spoke up at the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland this week for the rights of millions of former felons who have been denied the right to vote.
“Today, nearly 5.3 million U.S. citizens have been stripped of their voting rights on a temporary or permanent basis, including more than 4.4 million citizens who are no longer incarcerated,” said Lorraine Miller, chair of the Advocacy and Policy Committee of the NAACP board of directors, during a panel discussion.
“We commend U.S. Attorney General Holder for his work to prevent the implementation of recent challenges to voting rights,” Miller added. “However, we remain deeply concerned with the continued practice and discriminatory impact of felony disenfranchisement. We are here to urge the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Racism to investigate racially discriminatory election laws.”
Earlier this year, the NAACP sent a delegation to Geneva to bring attention to a suite of laws, including voter ID measures, voter roll purges and reduced voting hours that could result in voter suppression.
Many of those measures, along with laws that bar felons from voting booths, unfairly target African Americans and other minorities, NAACP officials argued. More than two million African Americans are among those felons who cannot vote, yet African Americans make up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, officials said.
Kemba Smith Pradia, a convicted felon whose romantic link to a drug dealer resulted in her incarceration, decried the fact that she cannot vote in her home state of Virginia.
A published author and ex-offender rights advocate, Pradia said she believes such policies are guided by racism.
“Even if I did understand the state of Virginia’s hesitancy to automatically restore a [felony convict’s] right to vote, how could the state totally ignore that these felony disenfranchisement laws had racial intent and emerged after the 15th Amendment?” she said at the panel.“In 1901, Virginia state delegate Carter Glass stated, ‘This plan…will eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State in less than 5 years, so that in no single county…will there be the least concern felt for the complete supremacy of the white race in the affairs of government.’
“It's time for Virginia to right this wrong and follow suit with the majority of other states across the United States.”
Virginia joins Florida, Iowa and Kentucky as the only states that continue to disenfranchise persons convicted of felonies even after they have completed their sentence. Florida joined the list this year after current Gov. Rick Scott (R) reinstated felony disenfranchisement restrictions even though his two predecessors, Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist) worked to remove them.
Hilary Shelton, NAACP senior vice president for advocacy, said such policies block access to the ballot box to those who need it most.
“These forms of disenfranchisement prevent those most in need of an advocate from the ability to elect someone who will represent their concerns: the need for a decent public education, for a health care system that addresses their specific demographic needs, as well as the creation of decent jobs, a functional criminal justice system and other basic human needs.”