In my view, the prosecution of voters like Hervis Rogers is much like the violent persecution of would-be Black voters in the past. Except now, instead of the lynching rope that once awaited those who tried to exercise the franchise, lengthy prison sentences tied to discriminatory laws are utilized to dissuade Black people from voting. And things are getting worse.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election loss, Republican legislators in 43 states have proposed more than 250 laws restricting access to the ballot, and numerous analysts say those proposals, if passed, would disproportionately impact Black voters. However, the current push to disenfranchise Black people is not new. It is a continuation of a strategy meant to keep Black people away from the polls and out of power. While numerous political pundits tie these new legal efforts to the big lie that Trump was somehow cheated out of an election that he lost by more than 7 million votes, the disenfranchisement of Black voters has a much longer history than that.
Even after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment — which was meant to give formerly enslaved people the right to vote — state and local jurisdictions, particularly in the South, used violence and intimidation to keep African Americans from voting. In the wake of the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, and the push to keep Black people out of the voting booth became more nuanced.
One of the tools that was used, in conjunction with an already racially imbalanced criminal justice system, was the passage of laws that tied voting rights to past felony convictions. In some states, people who’ve served time for felony convictions can’t vote at all. In other states, they must pay all fines and restitution connected to their convictions before they can vote. In states like Texas, they must complete not only their prison sentences, but also any connected probation and parole before they can vote.
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