The Power and Potential of the Black Vote

The Barack Obama victory, without a doubt, is testimonial to the power of the black vote. According to exit polls, 95 percent of Blacks voted for the President-elect.

Now, of course, black people alone did not (and could not have) make Barack Obama the next president of the United States of America.

Nonetheless, the Black vote was a key in this election. A number of states saw record-breaking levels of registration and turn-out by Black people. In states such as Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, the Black vote gave the President-elect the votes he needed to secure his historic victory.

Yet, more than 40 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the expansion of the criminal justice system - particularly the War on Drugs – continues to marginalize the political voice and limit the potential clout of the black community.

Felon disenfranchisement laws have disproportionately impacted the ability of black people to fully realize the potential of the ballot box.

Nationally, about 5.3 million Americans have lost the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions.

Roughly 13 percent of Black men are unable to vote, a rate seven times the national average.

In states that strip citizens convicted of a felony of their right to vote, as many as 40% of black men may be permanently disenfranchised.

And, according to the Sentencing Project, a non-partisan research and advocacy organization, “Given current rates of incarceration, three in ten of the next generation of black men can expect to be disenfranchised at some point in their lifetime.”

A new report by The 2009 Criminal Justice Transition Coalition, “Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress,” contains a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to reform the criminal justice system at every stage.

Among the group’s recommendations are:

* Extend federal voting rights to people released from prison;

* Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity;

* Expand alternatives to incarceration;

* Fund prisoner reentry trough the Second Chance Act;

* Analyze and reduce unwarranted racial and ethnic disparity in the federal judicial system.

The policy report will be delivered to President-elect Barack Obama and key legislative leaders on Capital Hill.

Let’s all hope that an Obama administration will make reforming the criminal justice system a key component of its civil rights agenda.

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