Sociology Index


Disenfranchised means to be without the right to vote. Disenfranchisement is the revocation of the right vote. Disfranchisement might occur through law, or by intimidation. The term disenfranchised is used to describe groups that have little power or representation in the political process. In the USA, a person is disenfranchised upon criminal conviction and after being sentenced to a penalty above some limit. A person is disenfranchised only as long as he or she is serving the sentence. Young people could be called disenfranchised since they have a low rate of voting and more importantly they have little representation in the political process or institutions which concern them.

During 1890 and 1908, Southern Democratic legislators in the USA created new constitutions with provisions for voter registration that effectively completed disfranchisement of most African Americans and poor whites by creating a variety of new barriers. Felony disenfranchisement prohibits people from voting based on the fact that they have been convicted of a felony. Disenfranchisement was commonly imposed on individuals convicted of crimes as part of their "civil death" and loss of all rights and claim to property. Felony disenfranchisement laws have been held to be constitutional.

The United States Supreme Court in Richardson v. Ramirez, upheld the constitutionality of felony disenfranchisement statutes, finding that the practice did not deny equal protection to disenfranchised voters. The Court found that this amounted to an "affirmative sanction" of the practice of felony disenfranchisement, and the 14th Amendment could not prohibit in one section that which is expressly authorized in another. It has been argued that Section 2 of the 14th Amendment does not represent an endorsement of felony disenfranchisement statutes as constitutional in light of the equal protection clause; but is limited only to the issue of reduced representation.

The Court ruled in Hunter v. Underwood 471 U.S. 222, 232 (1985) that a state's felony disenfranchisement provision will violate Equal Protection if it can be demonstrated that the provision, as enacted, had both impermissible racial motivation and racially discriminatory impact. A felony disenfranchisement law, which on its face is indiscriminate in nature, cannot be invalidated by the Supreme Court unless its enforcement is proven to discriminate and it was enacted with discriminatory animus.