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Chambers’ video omits that his statistic refers to the number of people who have lost voting rights due to felony convictions.
Each state sets its own laws as to whether felons lose the right to vote and how they can regain that right.
The Sentencing Project, a group that supports expanding voting rights, found in 2016 that 1 in 13 African Americans had lost the right to vote due to a felony conviction. By 2020, the number dropped to 1 in 16, as more states changed their laws.
Gary Chambers, a Louisiana Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, sets fire to a Confederate flag in a campaign video as he cites statistics about racial injustice and says "it’s time to burn what remains of the Confederacy down."
"Here in Louisiana and all over the South, Jim Crow never really left, and the remnants of the Confederacy remain," Chambers says. "The attacks against Black people, our right to vote and participate in this democracy are methodological."
Chambers reels off a few statistics including this one: "1 in 13 Black Americans are deprived of the right to vote."
Chambers didn’t cite evidence in his video or explain what he meant, but his other campaign materials made it clear he was referring to the number of Black Americans who have lost that right due to a felony conviction. A Chambers press release cited a statistic from 2016, but as of 2020 slightly fewer Black Americans were blocked from voting. The majority of those who can’t vote due to a felony conviction are no longer in prison.
Chambers, a social justice advocate from Baton Rouge, is running in a Democratic primary with hopes of ousting U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican.
Before the passage of the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed men the right to vote regardless of race, very few states barred prisoners from voting, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University previously told PolitiFact. But after the post-Civil War amendment passed, a wave of states enacted laws or amendments to take away prisoners’ right to vote.
President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to incentivize states to restore felon voting rights. His efforts so far have stalled amid Republican opposition in the Senate to set uniform voting rights laws, including for felons once they leave prison. That means states have the power to set their own voting laws.
During the past decade, the trend has turned toward making it easier for felons to regain their right to vote after leaving prison. Proponents argue that after felons pay their debt to society, they should be allowed to positively contribute to society by voting. Opponents say that those who break the law should not easily earn back the right to vote.
A press release from the Chambers campaign showed that he pulled the statistic from a 2020 Brookings Institution report. That document linked to a 2016 report by the Sentencing Project, a group that supports expanding voting rights. It was based on data collected by sociologists with the University of Minnesota and the University of Georgia.
In 2016, the Sentencing Project found that one in 13 African Americans of voting age was disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than that of non-African Americans. In 2020, the figure fell to 1 in 16 Black Americans. It includes people who have served their sentence, are on probation or parole, or remain in prison.
The numbers of disenfranchised felons fell between 2016 and 2020 as more states made it easier for some felons to regain the right to vote including California, Iowa, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.
There is variation among states on how many felons — of all races and ethnicities — are disenfranchised, because each Legislature or governor sets its own rules. In sheer numbers, Florida has the highest number of disenfranchised felons. In 2018, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to people with past felony convictions, but subsequent legislation required that they fulfill other conditions of their sentence first, such as paying restitution and court costs.
In Maine, Vermont and now Washington, D.C., felons don’t lose their right to vote, according to a 2021 analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In 21 states, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and regain their right to vote upon release. In the remainder of the states, felons also lose their voting rights while on parole and/or probation or have to meet other conditions to regain their right to vote.
Chambers said in a campaign video "one in 13 Black Americans are deprived of the right to vote."
Chambers’ video didn’t explain why they are deprived of the right to vote. But he was referring to the number of African Americans who lost the right to vote due to a felony conviction, based on a 2016 analysis from the Sentencing Project.
A 2020 report by the same group found that number dropped slightly to 1 in 16 African Americans. It includes people who have served their sentence, are on probation or parole, or remain in prison.
Chambers’ overall point that a significant number of Black people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction is correct, but in an environment where issues of voter suppression are widely discussed and debated, the figure benefits from more explanation. We rate this statement Half True.
Gary Chambers, U.S. Senate candidate, Campaign video, Feb. 9, 2022
Brookings Institution, The demographics of racial inequality in the United States, July 27, 2020
The Sentencing Project, 6 Million Lost Voters: State-Level Estimates of Felony Disenfranchisement, 2016
The Sentencing Project, Locked out: Estimates of people denied voting rights due to a felony conviction, 2020
National Conference of State Legislatures, Felon voting rights, June 2021
Tampa Bay Times, Florida ruled felons must pay to vote. Now, it doesn’t know how many can. Oct. 7, 2020
Brennan Center for Justice, Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Florida, Sept. 11, 2020
PolitiFact, Bernie Sanders set off a firestorm over prisoners voting, but his facts are straight, April 24, 2019
Email interview, Christopher Uggen, professor of sociology and law at the University of Minnesota, Feb. 11, 2022
Email interview, Sarah Shannon, associate professor of sociology University of Georgia, Feb. 11, 2022
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