It’s Election Day, which means millions of voters are headed to the polls. But there’s a sizable number of people who aren’t permitted to cast ballots because they’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system. An estimated 5.3 million Americans have currently or permanently lost their right to vote because of felony convictions–and given the country’s ever-expanding prison system, that number will likely increase. At least four million of those people have completed their sentences or are on probation or parole, according to NPR.
This disenfranchisement was recently dubbed “the new Jim Crow” by author Michelle Alexander, because of the sheer size of its racial disparity. Since black men are incarcerated at a far higher rate than the national average, they are also denied the right to vote at a far higher rate–seven times the national average; 1.4 million African-American men have lost their voting rights, according to the Sentencing Project.
The Sentencing Project reports that several states, acting in response to advocates’ pressure, have tweaked their laws in recent years to restore ex-felons’ rights. But reform advocates are pushing the Democracy Restoration Act, a federal initiative that would restore voting rights nationally to those who have been released from prison. The bill was introduced by Michigan Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Russ Feingold, who’s facing a tough day the polls in his home state of Wisconsin. With or without Feingold, advocates are urging members of Congress to support the bill, which you can read more about here.