Happy Election Day!

Today’s midterm voting results will probably usher many new faces into Congress.  If you aren’t quite sure where to vote, it’s easy to find the location of your polling place here:

http://www.vote411.org/pollfinder.php

Today it seems fitting, however, to take a moment to note the incredible number of Americans who do not have the right to vote.  Michele Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, writes in a piece for Mother Jones that “there are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”  Alexander discusses the effects of the drug wars: in many states African American men make up 80-90% of drug arrests even though they do not make up the majority of drug offenders. With conviction comes disenfranchisement.   Enfranchising all citizens in the United States has long been an uphill battle, one that is not yet complete.

Today Kyle Bella wrote a piece for ColorLines explaining this and another barrier that prohibit people (of color) from voting:

Perhaps the most common barrier to voting is that African-American men in particular face felony convictions at much higher rates than the general population; in all but two states—Maryland and Vermont—felony convictions disqualify people from voting, until they get their convictions removed from their records. As a result, more than five million people are unable to vote, according to the Sentencing Project, including 13 percent of black men. No surprise, given the racial disparity in incarceration. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reported in 2008 that “there were nearly 2.2 million persons in America’s prisons and jails as of 2005—60 percent of whom were black or Latino,” even though they comprise only 25 percent of the total population collectively.

Another thing keeping people of color out of the ballot box is immigration status. Tens of millions of immigrants, both documented and not, have made lives in the U.S. but are unable to vote. Youth, as well, are a huge population of Americans who are unable to vote and are often completely ignored as people who can contribute to the political processes of the communities in which they live.

Luckily, the ballot box doesn’t define the limits of political engagement. So we culled some advocates’ ideas on civic engagement for people who cannot (or will not) vote. In fact, even if you do vote, it’s a handy list of things you can do after your ballot’s cast.

Check out Kyle Bella’s full piece here to find out five other ways to participate politically, whether you are fully-enfranchised or not! Also, take some time to check out Michele Alexander’s full article in Mother Jones here.

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