Advocacy groups including the NAACP and ACLU are seeking to register thousands of citizens with criminal records who may not know they are now eligible to cast ballots under state voting laws.
The ACLU is also seeking to pressure state legislatures to repeal so-called felony disenfranchisement laws, which bar from voting an estimated 5.3 million Americans with felony convictions, including 2.1 million who are no longer behind bars.
Conservatives say the moves are “thinly disguised attempts to help Democrats at the polls and to help Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama win the White House,” the Web site Stateline.org reported. “Studies have shown that former felons tend to lean Democratic.”
Only two states, Maine and Vermont, permit incarcerated felons to vote. Eleven states restrict the voting rights of those with felony convictions after their sentences have been served, 35 states bar parolees from voting, and 30 ban those on probation.
The governors of three states with tough felony disenfranchisement laws — Florida, Kentucky and Virginia — recently eased some of their rules, and this has led the advocacy groups to launch their voter registration efforts in those states.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist has instituted changes that have made 112,000 former convicts eligible to vote this year. But only about 9,000 have registered so far because many former convicts are unaware that they can now vote, according to Stateline.org.
The voter registration efforts are not without their critics, however.
“If you’re not willing to follow the law, then you can’t claim a right to make the law for everyone else,” said Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank in Virginia.
“And of course that’s what you’re doing when you vote.”
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