The right to vote is held sacred in America, even for those who do not vote themselves. In many states that right can be taken away with a prison sentence for any crime that gives a felony. This ranges from nonviolent offenses, like drug possession, to the most violent offenses, like murder.
This creates a problem: taking the right to vote away from these people leads to the exclusion of a huge population from having their voice heard in national and local elections.
The United States incarcerates more of its population than any nation in the world, with over one in 100 American adults imprisoned and higher numbers among those of minority status.
At the current rate of incarceration, one in every three black men will serve time in prison, according to the Department of Justice, and this higher proportion is the most recent of historically limiting the power of African-American citizens.
The disparity continues through racially-biased mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenses. The differences in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine has really targeted minority communities in the U.S.
Due to high wealth inequality and systematic racism, individuals of minority status will often go for crack cocaine over its powdered form. The powdered form, which is generally preferred by wealthier, usually white, consumers, requires around 18 times as much weight to trigger the same penalty as crack, even though they are the same drug, according to the non-profit Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
This issue alone is one of many that systematically targets people of minority races.
Of course, changing the laws will not be easy, because those it affects most lose their rights to vote, while the dominant group of people, those who still have a voice to make a difference in society, do not see this happening due to the hidden nature of these processes.
Indiana is one of the few states to return the vote to those released from prison, but our state is in the minority. When going to vote this November, think about those who had their rights taken away due to systemic racism.