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Why Over 200,000 African-American Men Could Not Vote in Florida

Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Aaron Kipnis

adapted by Dr. Kipnis from his book Angry Young Men


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Angry Young Men: How Parents, Teachers, and Counselors can Help "Bad Boys" become Good Men
by Aaron Kipnis

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author Aaron Kipnis, Ph.D.
Aaron Kipnis, Ph.D.

Knights Without Armor

Knights Without Armor: A Practical Guide for Men in Quest of Masculine Soul
by Aaron Kipnis
Still has my vote as one of the best classic introductions to Men's Work.
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While charges fly over the handful of votes that will declare our next president, there is scant commentary about the 647,100 U.S. citizens who were denied the right to vote in Florida last week.

Our fierce belief in the unalienable right of citizens to select their own leaders is one of the great hallmarks of American Democracy. And, like many noble visions, it has taken a lot of sacrifice and courage to bring that vision forth.. Since the American Revolution our small tent of democracy has steadily grown. Granted at first solely to the white male Founders, the vote has since been extended to former slaves, Native Americans, women, the less literate, the landless, the poor, and others initially denied citizen enfranchisement.

In Florida today, however, over 5 percent of the adult population are not allowed to vote. This largely covert repeal of suffrage rights includes roughly one-in-three African-American men. Florida undercuts their constituency more severely than any other state. Following Governor Jeb Bush 's Florida, Governor George Bush's Texas has the nation's second largest group of disenfranchised voters. Between these two states alone, over 1.2 million citizens, including more than a 1/3 of a million African Americans, are banned from the voting booth because of felony convictions on their records.

Disenfranchisement practices, like sentencing guidelines, vary widely from state to state. Some citizens regain their right to vote in time, but in Florida many lose that unique herald of democracy for life. In many states even felons only sentenced to probation or those honorably discharged from parole can be stripped of their civil rights. The American Revolution was fought over similar injustices perpetrated against the "unrepresented" colonial subjects of King George.

Nationwide, almost 4 million adults today, a third of them African-Americans, are subjected to this statutory gerrymandering. Many elections are decided by smaller margins. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall noted that disenfranchisement laws originated, "in the fogs and fictions of feudal jurisprudence." But it is likely that most of us imagine 21st century American Justice should evolve beyond European norms for the Middle Ages. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist observes that, historically, these laws were deliberately "enacted with the intent of disenfranchising blacks." Given that most African-Americans voted Democratic in the last election, the face of American politics would dramatically shift were these barriers to voter participation finally torn down.

We are the only industrial democracy to disenfranchise massive voting blocks from the electorate. Rather than leading the free world today, we now trail it by a shocking distance on this account. The few nations that do practice voter disenfranchisement do so only toward those few who, through acts of terrorism, treason or other such crimes, demonstrate contempt for the democratic process itself. South Africa, for example, another nation with a troubled history of black and white race relations, does not deny the vote to felons or even to incarcerated prisoners. By comparison, it seems grotesque to sentence an American youth caught with fifteen dollars worth of drugs to lifelong exile from a participatory government. The practice of disenfranchisement does not encourage the marginalized to ever embrace the system or attempt to work within it. If anything, it breeds contempt for the law and cynicism about our capacity for justice and a truly representative democracy. Let us resolve to do something before the next election to restore our nation to one in which the people, all the people, decide who will rule and how.

Dr. Aaron Kipnis is a psychology professor in Santa Barbara and author of, Angry Young Men: How Parents, Teachers, and Counselors Can Help 'Bad Boys' Become Good Men. For more information please visit

Dr. Aaron Kipnis
Box 4782
Santa Barbara , CA. 93140

Adapted from an excert from:
Angry Young Men: How Parents, Teachers and Counselors Can Help "Bad Boys" become Good Men.
All the above statistics are documented, with citations, in the book.

© 1999, 2000 Aaron Kipnis, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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