As election season continues to consume the national news cycle, there is increasing attention being paid to how voters have access to the polls. Voter ID laws and changes to early voting policies have stirred significant debate, and yet well over five million American citizens will have no chance of participating in the democratic process as a result of felon disenfranchisement laws. In confluence with the high rates of incarceration, increasing numbers of Americans are being stripped, in some cases for life, of their civic rights.
Politicians vying for office interact with these laws when they form platforms, vote on specific policies, and even in the rhetoric they use. In my research I found a relationship between increasing rates of disenfranchisement, in states like Florida where over nine percent of the population is disenfranchised for life, and lower levels of funding for state welfare programs. Policymakers have less of an incentive to respond to low-income and minority voters who are caught disproportionately by these laws, depriving them of influence.
Outcomes like the lowered state welfare spending have implications at the national level, too. As politicians from the eight states that disenfranchise for life send Representatives and Senators to Congress and states such as Florida and Iowa play significant roles in the Presidential election these policies can have significant impacts on the policies that any national politician pursues. Felons and their interests could play an important role in this, and any other, election cycle.