February 13th, 2014
The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asked states to repeal laws prohibiting felons from voting after their prison sentences are served. S. David Mitchell, a University of Missouri law professor who is an expert on felon disenfranchisement and an advocate for automatic restoration of felons’ rights upon completion of sentences, agrees with Holder and says that these laws infringe on an individuals’ voting rights hurts the individual and limits the political power of communities.
“Most felons come from particular communities – lower socio-economic status communities and primarily communities of color,” Mitchell said. “The problem is that upon release, those individuals are sent back into their communities without the ability to vote, adding an increased layer of issues to a community that is already suffering. Those people end up being voiceless and powerless. Thus, the political power of the community is limited.”
Mitchell also says that while it is critical for states to remove barriers preventing access to the ballot box, it is also imperative that states open up employment opportunities by “banning the box” on employment applications in the public and private sector.
“The right to vote is incredibly important, but it is only one part of how to make reentry as successful as possible for ex-offenders,” said Mitchell, who also is a sociologist. “Citizenship is more than just an opportunity to cast a ballot, particularly for African Americans and other underrepresented groups that are disproportionately affected by these issues. If an ex offender is unable to earn a living or participate on equal footing by voting, then why would he or she adopt the values of society upon being released?”
Mitchell joined the University of Missouri School of Law faculty in 2006 following a two-year position at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Before heading to Colorado to teach and continue his research on felon disenfranchisement, Mitchell served as a law clerk for the Honorable Andre M. Davis of the U.S. District Court of Maryland.