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A Legacy of Exclusion: How Felon Disenfranchisement Affects Patterns of Civic Engagement in Ex-Felony Offenders

  • Author(s): McCahon, David Scott
  • Advisor(s): Johnson, Martin
  • Bowler, Shaun
  • et al.
Abstract

Laws banning criminal offenders from voting have existed in the United States for more than two centuries. While a legacy of felon exclusion remains in the United States, the proportion of criminal offenders formally excluded from voting has decreased over time. Though many ex-offenders are eligible to vote, voter turnout amongst ex-felony offenders is exceptionally low. Existing scholarship has recognized criminal convictions and subsequent incarceration, as factors that explain the dismal levels of voter turnout demonstrated by ex-criminal offenders. I this dissertation, I alternatively argue that misinformation surrounding offender voting rights, and stigma associated with the "convicted felon" label negatively influence levels of political involvement amongst former felons. I conclude by arguing in favor of civic reeducation programs that inform ex-offenders of their rights and that may assist them reintegrate back into society.

Mixed research methods were used to gather and analyze data in this dissertation. Research methods used include in-depth interviews, quasi-experimental methods, a survey and an experiment. This methodological approach was used to evaluate the extent of misinformation amongst ex-felons regarding their voting rights, and to estimate the causal effect of educating ex-offenders of their voting rights on levels of interest in government and civic engagement. I find that nearly half of eligible to vote, ex-felony offenders wrongly believe that they are disenfranchised. Further, I find that informing ex-felons of their voting rights increases personal knowledge of voting rights, desire to participate in upcoming elections and overall interest in politics and public affairs. This dissertation makes a theoretical contribution to existing literature on the topic of felon disenfranchisement and is essential reading for policy makers, criminal justice professionals and organizations interested in issues related to prisoner reentry.

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