Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

One Lens, Multiple Views: Felon Disenfranchisement Laws and American Political Inequality
by Brown-Dean, Khalilah L., Ph.D., The Ohio State University, 2004, 264; 10834960
Abstract (Summary)

Felon disenfranchisement laws prohibit current, and in many states, former felony offenders from voting. Of particular interest to my research, 36% of the citizens permanently unable to vote are African Americans. It is important to note that state laws determine who is eligible to vote. States have the option of disenfranchising felons while in prison, while on parole, on probation, or for a lifetime. This dissertation combines traditional democratic theory with elements of the racial group competition literatures to form a lens for understanding the historical use and contemporary consequences of criminal disenfranchisement laws. Using a multi-method approach combining archival research, experiments, and cross-sectional analyses, the findings of this research contradict much of the existing literature's assertion that racial minorities have successfully overcome the institutional barriers to full participation. In essence, these findings affirm the extent to which criminal control policies have become a powerful means of promoting the politics of exclusion.

Using an original state-level data set, I find that the level of minority diversity and region are the most significant determinants of the severity of states' disenfranchisement laws. In particular, I find that southern states and states with more sizeable Black and Hispanic voting-age populations tend to have more severe restrictions on felon voting. I find that elite discourse surrounding disenfranchisement has evolved from an explicit focus on race and racial discrimination to a more subtle priming of racial group considerations and stereotypes. Combining these findings with the experimental data, I find that public support for felon disenfranchisement is influenced by the frames elites use to discuss them. When disenfranchisement laws are presented as a threat to democratic vitality, citizens' support for them tends to be lower. However, when disenfranchisement is presented as a means of punishing those who have broken the public trust, support is higher. These findings confirm the importance of political elites for helping citizens make sense of complex political issues.

Taken together, the research presented in this dissertation supports the view that the racial group competition lens illuminates multiple views regarding the limits of citizenship as well as contemporary barriers to political equality.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Beck, Paul
School: The Ohio State University
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 79/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Keywords: American politics, Black politics, Democracy, Disenfranchisement
Publication Number: 10834960
ISBN: 978-0-355-94802-8
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