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As levels of criminal punishment have risen in the United States,
more and more citizens have been disenfranchised because of a felony
conviction. This paper provides an overview and analysis of the unique
practice of felon disenfranchisement in the United States today. We
focus in particular on the political impact of disenfranchising large
numbers of nonincarcerated felons—those who have served their
entire sentences and those living in their home communities while
completing a term of probation or parole. Our discussion is organized
around three key issues relating to felon disenfranchisement: (1) the
historical and legal origins of this practice; (2) its practical
political impact on recent elections; and, (3) the racial dynamics that
color both the history and contemporary effects of felon
disenfranchisement in the United States. We discuss how felon
disenfranchisement laws in many states appear to be out of step with
both international practices and public opinion in the United States
and consider contemporary policy proposals.
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