On the Political Economy of Felon Disenfranchisement

37 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2019

See all articles by Arpita Ghosh

Arpita Ghosh

University of Leicester

James Rockey

University of Birmingham - Department of Economics

Date Written: February 7, 2019


Nearly 6.1 million U.S. citizens are politically disenfranchised because of a prior felony conviction, and these citizens tend disproportionately to be black. Specifically, more than 7.4% of the adult African-American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8% of other Americans. This paper investigates the political consequences of this large racial disparity in disenfranchisement rates. To obtain the first causal estimates of the effects of felon disenfranchisement (FD), we build a new database that catalogs the annual state changes in disenfranchisement law. We show that these changes are driven by lengthy, uncertain, and complicated court cases which are outside of the control of individual state legislatures. We use a difference in difference strategy to analyze the impact of these changes in felon disenfranchisement laws. Our results suggest that FD legislation is associated with a 3 percentage point reduction in the likelihood of voting, allowing for a range of race-specific effects of demographic and geographic characteristics. This number is larger than would be implied purely by the mechanical effect due to the change in the number of eligible voters suggesting that FD also reduces turnout amongst those eligible to vote. Next, we show that relaxations in FD laws increase the number of Black U.S. Representatives. Finally, we show that relaxations also lead to an increase in state policy liberalism.

Keywords: Felon Disenfranchisement, Elections, Race

JEL Classification: D72, H7, J15, K16

Suggested Citation

Ghosh, Arpita and Rockey, James Charles, On the Political Economy of Felon Disenfranchisement (February 7, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3330565 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3330565

Arpita Ghosh

University of Leicester ( email )

University Road
Leicester, LE1 7RH
United Kingdom

James Charles Rockey (Contact Author)

University of Birmingham - Department of Economics ( email )

University House
University of Birmingham
116 Edgbaston Park Rd, Birmingham B15 2TY
United Kingdom

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