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Legislation Introduced to End Felony Disenfranchisement in Georgia

Last week, Representatives Josh McLaurin, Bee Nguyen, Gregg Kennard, Kim Schofield, Rebecca Mitchell and Erick Allen introduced a bill and a resolution to end voter disqualification based on a felony conviction in Georgia. Currently, Georgia’s Constitution bans anyone from voting who is completing a sentence for a felony involving moral turpitude (completing a sentence means the person is either incarcerated or supervised on probation or parole). Because the state has not created a list of crimes defined as those involving “moral turpitude,” in practice, every person currently serving a felony sentence in Georgia is denied the right to vote. There is not, and has never been, a justifiable reason to shut people out of the democratic process simply because they have been convicted of a crime. SCHR strongly supports HR28 and HB101, which seek to end this racist and oppressive practice in Georgia. 

Criminal disenfranchisement was first codified in the Constitution in 1868, after the Civil War, and in the very same year that Congress introduced the resolution to pass the 15th Amendment, granting the right to vote to Black men. This was no coincidence. This racist history cannot be ignored, particularly because the state’s current data indicates the success of felony disenfranchisement to systematically and disparately exclude Black people from exercising the right to vote. In fact, of over a quarter of a million people shut out of the democratic process due to a felony conviction, almost 60% are Black. In the last decade, Georgia has removed more people from voter lists due to a felony conviction than any other state in the country. 3.79% of all Georgians are disenfranchised; 6.27% of Black Georgians are disenfranchised.

“The expansion of felony disenfranchisement after the Civil War was a racist move to deny Black people full participation in our democracy…This system of second-class citizenship has denied our neighbors’ voices for almost 150 years now. It is time to restore these citizens’ rights and their voices,” said Rep. McLaurin.

“SCHR is committed to advocating for the elimination of all remnants of chattel slavery and racism that continue to exist in criminal legal systems in the South, and work with elected officials and other stakeholders to achieve meaningful and equitable reforms that foster the health and safety of impacted communities,” said Marissa Dodson, SCHR’s Public Policy Director, at a press conference last week. 

This legislation is as timely as it is important, since this session, Georgia lawmakers will use the results of the 2020 Census to inform resources and political districts for the next decade. This is despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Georgians who were counted in the Census cannot participate in the selection of their local, state, and federal representatives. “This practice of counting without the right to participate is nearly identical to the way enslaved people were each counted as 3/5 of a person before the 14th Amendment was ratified,” Dodson says. 

Kareemah Hanifa is a Community Organizer with IMAN Atlanta, whose campaign No Taxation Without Representation has petitioned to end felony disenfranchisement in Georgia since 2019. “Voting is not a privilege, it is a constitutional right,” Hanifa says. “When people are actively involved in decisions that affect them and the community they live in, when people feel a part of, their sense of purpose and their responses are different.”

There is increasing momentum to restore the vote to the 275,000 people who are denied their right to cast a ballot. “There has been a disconnect between grassroots and state leadership that needs to be restored,” says Hanifa. “The decision-makers are not directly impacted, so they don’t have lived experience. In order for them to be in touch with the concerns of the community, the grassroots movement brings this to their attention.”