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Abstract

Felon disenfranchisement provisions are justified by many Americans under the principle that voting is a privilege to be enjoyed only by upstanding citizens. The provisions are intimately tied, however, to the country’s legacy of racism and systemic disenfranchisement and are at odds with the values of American democracy. In virtually every state, felon disenfranchisement provisions affect the poor and communities of color on a grossly disproportionate scale. Yet to date, most challenges to the provisions under the Equal Protection Clause and Voting Rights Act have been unsuccessful, frustrating proponents of re-enfranchisement and the disenfranchised alike.

In light of those failures, is felon disenfranchisement here to stay? This Note contemplates that question, beginning with a comprehensive analysis of the history of felon disenfranchisement provisions in America, tracing their roots to the largescale effort to disenfranchise African Americans during Reconstruction, and identifying ways in which the racism of the past reverberates through practices of disenfranchisement in the present day. Applying this knowledge to understandings of prior case law and recent voting rights litigation, a path forward begins to emerge.