Angela Behrens, Christopher Uggen, and Jeff Manza. 2003. “Ballot Manipulation and the ‘Menace of Negro Domination’: Racial Threat and Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 1850-2002.” American Journal of Sociology 109:559-605.


Criminal offenders in the United States typically forfeit voting rights as a collateral consequence of their felony convictions. This paper analyzes the origins and development of these state felon disenfranchisement provisions. Because these laws tend to dilute the voting strength of racial minorities, we build on theories of group threat to test whether racial threat influenced their passage. Many felon voting bans were passed in the late 1860s and 1870s, when implementation of the 15th Amendment and its extension of voting rights to African Americans were ardently contested. Consistent with one version of the racial threat hypothesis, we find that large nonwhite prison populations increase the odds of passing restrictive laws, even when the effects of time, region, economic competition, political partisanship, and punitiveness are statistically controlled. Our event history analysis also suggests that prison and state racial composition are linked to the adoption of reforms that have reenfranchised ex-felons in many states since the 1950s. These findings are important for understanding restrictions on the civil rights of citizens convicted of crime, and more generally for the role of racial conflict in American political development.