Famed rapper 2 Chainz is lending his influence to a cause greater than turning up. With less than two weeks until the national election, 2 Chainz has teamed up with the Respect My Vote! campaign to educate convicted felons about regaining their voting rights. 2 Chainz and Respect My Vote! have launched a national public service announcement and are appearing on several programs, including BET’s “Don’t Sleep with TJ Holmes” to inform the masses about felony disenfranchisement.
This issue is important to the Def Jam-signed MC because it directly impacts him. 2 Chainz is one of the 5.85 million Americans that will be barred from the Nov. 6 election because of voter ID restrictions that directly target citizens with felony convictions.
“I’ve been a felon since I was 15, so when I found out that I could be reinstated and all of that and get my votership back, I’ve been a voice for that,” he told The Huffington Post in August.
The statistics are daunting. A 2012 report from the Sentencing Project, an organization that promotes reform in the criminal justice system, found that:
- 1 of every 40 adults is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.
- The number of adults without voting privileges has increased from 1.17 million in 1976 to 5.85 million in 2010.
- In Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia, more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised due to felony convictions.
Though it impacts all felons, regardless of ethnic background, a 2010 report from the Sentencing Project, an organization that promotes reform in the criminal justice system, found that African-Americans – particularly black men – are disproportionately impacted by these disenfranchisement laws.
The report discovered that more than 2 million African-Americans, or 1 in 13, have been stripped of their voting rights because of felony convictions. In 2004, almost 280,000 black women were denied the right to vote. This number is expected to increase in the approaching election.
Despite this seemingly insurmountable mountain, 2 Chainz and several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are determined to increase voter turnout among convicted felons. The reality is, most of those disenfranchised aren’t current prisoners, but are parolees who are contributing to society and paying taxes.
The Sentencing Project discovered that “only about one-fourth of this population is currently incarcerated, meaning that over 4 million of the adults who live, work, and pay taxes in their communities are banned from voting. Of this total, nearly 1 million are African American.”
Many scholars argue that this is an uphill battle against both racism and the Constitution. According to a historical timeline on ProCon.org’s website, the first inclusion of felony disenfranchisement was in Kentucky’s state constitution. On April 19, 1792, the state constitution was ratified to include the line that “Laws shall be made to exclude from… suffrage those who thereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” This continued through the 1800s and became formidable when the 15th amendment was ratified to grant black men the right to vote.
In a TIME Ideas op-ed, Cornell University professor, Noliwe M. Rooks ponders what President Abraham Lincoln’s response to this disenfranchisement would be.
“Lincoln not only advocated black freedom, but in the last speech of his life, he voiced support for giving the vote to some freed black men as well as about 200,000 black Civil War veterans, a decision that literally cost him his life.”
Though President Lincoln is far from a black savior, she concludes that he would attest this disenfranchisement.
“But considering that today enfranchisement for former felons enjoys widespread public support, we need only turn that support into political will and then action. We know what Lincoln would do.”
In the time of Barack Obama, the question is what is a viable solution? A United Nations Committee analyzed felony disenfranchisement in the United States and asked the government to intervene and reform these state laws. Thus far, no federal legislation has been enacted to prevent this institution of disenfranchisement from continuing.
However, another fact that is working against most of these men and women is a lack of knowledge about voting restoration. In 37 states and the District of Columbia, rights are either never restricted or are restored after the term of incarceration has been served.
2 Chainz discovered that he still had access to voting ballots while being prompted to register in a mall. In a video for Fuse TV, 2 Chainz recalls how he first found out about restoring his right to vote.
“[A] lady just [kept] telling me, ‘Come sign up to vote,’ and I just felt it was too late,” he said in a FuseTV interview. “I made a mistake when I was young and just couldn’t fix it. I realized that you can vote again once you’re a felon.”
2 Chainz statement isn’t true for all citizens. According to FelonVoting.Procon.org, men and women convicted in Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia or Wyoming can be permanently stripped of their voting rights.
However, it depends on the crime committed and the time elapsed since completion of sentence. Though the deadline for registering to vote in the 2012 presidential election has passed in almost all 50 states, the war wages on. 2 Chainz is still maintaining his general status after Nov. 6.
“I just try to spread the word to people I felt like who maybe made mistakes and just want to, like, correct their wrongs, and you should be able to do that,” 2 Chainz told The Huffington Post.
For further information about regaining voting rights for felons, check out these websites: