Sasha Abramsky

American Furies

Hard Time Blues





How Millions Went to Prison, Lost the Vote, and Helped Send George W. Bush to the White House

by Sasha Abramsky


It seems when you’re convicted of a felony, the scarlet letter is there. You take it everywhere with you.
—Jamaica S., a twenty-five-year-old on probation in Tennessee who lost her right to vote

More than four million Americans, mainly poor, black, and Latino, have lost the right to vote. In some states, as many as a third of all African American men cannot take part in the most basic right of a democracy. The reason? Felony disenfranchisement laws, which remove the vote from people while they are in prison or on parole, and, in several states, for the rest of their lives.

Award-winning journalist Sasha Abramsky takes us on a journey through disenfranchised America, detailing the revival of antidemocratic laws that came of age in the post–Civil War segregationist South, and profiling Americans who are fighting to regain the right to vote. From the Pacific Northwest to Miami, with stops in a dozen states in between, Abramsky shows for the first time how this growing problem has played a decisive role in elections nationwide—from state races all the way up to the closely contested 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

With a new national Right to Vote campaign having just helped to overturn Iowa’s felony disenfranchisement laws and similar campaigns under way in eight other states, this book comes at a time when many Americans have begun to recognize these laws as a fundamental threat to democracy.

Sasha Abramsky, a Senior Fellow for Democracy at the public policy organization Demos, has written for the New York Times, The Nation, Rolling Stone, and LA Weekly, among others. He is the author of Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation, and teaches at the University of California, Davis. He lives in Sacramento with his wife and daughter.

• In Alabama and several other Southern states, where power has shifted decisively toward the Republican Party in recent years, as many as a third of all African American men may be disenfranchised.

• In Virginia, over 300,000 are without the right to vote.

• Between half and three-quarters of a million Floridians are voteless because of past felony convictions. Had 1 percent of these individuals voted in 2000, splitting sixty-forty for Gore, the Democrats would have won the White House.

• In Washington, where the 2004 governor’s race came down to a handful of votes, almost 200,000 are voteless.

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