Between four million and five million otherwise eligible voters nationwide are estimated to have lost their federal voting privileges because of current and past felony convictions. As many as 40 percent of that number are African-American; Women represent about 500,000 of those. In some cases, released ex-felons are not routinely informed regarding the steps necessary to regain their right to vote and often believe?incorrectly?that they can never vote again. Moreover, even if they seek to have the vote restored, few have the financial and political resources needed to succeed. All states except Maine and Vermont bar felons from voting, though some allow felons to regain their right to vote in some circumstances. Revolutionary Father Thomas Paine said: ?The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another.? The Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, enacted in 1870 following the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation that declared slaves free men, declared: ?The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.? However, the Supreme Court in the 1974 case Richardson v. Ramirez, Justice Rhenquist?s reading of Section 2, ruled that felony disenfranchisement could not be challenged under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, therefore leading recent suits brought under the Voting Rights Act, which bars imposition of any burden that results in the denial of voting rights "on account of race or color." The Rehnquist opinion in Richardson v. Ramirez read the provision as an exception to the Equal Protection Clause of Section 1 of the Amendment and a grant of authority to the states to disfranchise any person convicted of a crime. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment reads in pertinent part: ?No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.?
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