In most states felons who have served their time and have been released cannot vote. It’s an injustice that mocks the democratic process. Nearly six million U.S. citizens; more than the total population of 31 states, are senselessly made to feel like partial citizens. Not only do they have a difficult time finding a job upon their release from prison but are not welcomed to participate in the most fundamental right as free people, to vote. They are never fully free which negatively affects their ability to rejoin society and to respect its laws. The motive to disallow felons to vote is as despicable an action as the resulting disenfranchisement of citizens. It is a voter suppression technique, nothing more, developed after the Civil War to curtail the black vote. The effect on minority communities today continues to be disproportionate and the fact these laws still exist should be considered intolerable.
Disallowing felons to vote does not align with the democratic values we claim to posses. These outdated laws put America in the unenviable and hypocritical position of promoting democracy throughout the world while not completely embracing the concept itself. Voter suppression in the U.S. is a “black eye” for Uncle Sam and the notion of liberty. Add Felon voting restrictions with gerrymandering, discriminatory voter ID regulations and early voting restrictions to the recent Supreme Court Ruling which essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act and the sum is a pseudo-democracy, one which is increasingly governed, not by the nation’s people but by big-moneyed interests who seldom have the public’s best interest in mind. “How democratic is our country when so many otherwise eligible citizens are unable to vote because of crimes for which they have already been punished?” (Speckhardt, 2013).
Some would argue the laws denying felons the right to vote has nothing whatsoever in common with voter suppression techniques. Felons have been proven to possess a moral fiber unworthy of participating in a lawful society. The decisions regarding laws and those elected officials who make them should not be left in the hands of habitual or heinous law breakers. Maybe so but where does this rationale end? How about racists, possibly Klan members, or those of the communist political leanings? How about disallowing the right to vote to those who subscribe to a non-Christian religion or those who know nothing about politics or general knowledge involving current events and history? It seems reasonable that an informed, intelligent ex-felon should be more trusted to vote than an ignorant, ill-informed, hateful racist. Some would also argue that not all citizens have the right to vote in a democracy such as the mentally ill and children under 18 years of age. Neither should someone who commits horrible crimes against the same society they now want to grant then the privilege of voting. “We have certain minimum, objective standards of responsibility, trustworthiness, and commitment to our laws that we require of people before they are entrusted with a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government.” (Clegg, 2015) Some opposed to felons voting concede that it would be acceptable for that right to be restored once that individual has demonstrated verifiable and sustained rehabilitation.
Both religious persons and non-believers, two very diverse groups who agree on few issues, think its only right ex-felons should be allowed to participate in a democracy. These groups base their opinion on different justifications, both of which are valid. The core of the evangelical belief system is the possibility of reform, the idea of redemption. They believe that if a person gives their life to God and is actually penitent that they will be “born again,” their sins washed away and forgiven by divine power. Christians are instructed to forgive, meaning to stop punishing the transgressor upon repentance. Galen Carey, Vice President for Government Relations for the National Association of Evangelicals recently stated “we never give up on people, no matter what they have done.” He has outlined a plan that would “support ex-offenders as they re-establish their futures” including allowing their right to vote. Non-believers think that people can be rehabilitated, not through divine intervention but by their willingness to do it, combined with individual circumstances and experiences in addition to society’s willingness to allow them back them into the mainstream of the social order which includes the right to vote. The non-believer and evangelical’s concept of a participatory democracy is one where all who are governed by an entity should have the ability to influence its representatives and laws. Felon disenfranchisement diminishes the important human need for dignity. It relegates a significant portion of society to second-class status which is in conflict with the idea of a free, democratic society. Moreover, by disallowing this democratic process to felons demonstrates that this society doesn’t really think people can be rehabilitated nor in the concept of paying one’s debt to society. The felon continues to pay their debt all the days of their lives. (Speckhardt, 2013).
The foundation of a free, democratic, representative style government such as in the U.S. is the right for all to participate, to vote. Active participation of its citizens is of vital significance for a nation to claim it operates based on democratic values. Those who support the concept of democratically elected governance should advocate allowing as many citizens as practical to vote. Otherwise it lessens the control of the people therefore increasing the power of moneyed interests who are allowed to control legislators. Ex-felons are people who made a mistake and have paid their debt. A true democracy would allow them to participate in it. By forbidding their right to vote diminishes the felon’s chance for reintegration into society along with the strength of the democracy.
- Clegg, Roger. (2015). Felons and the Vote. Center for Equal Opportunity. Retrieved on April 27, 2015 from http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-voting
- Speckhardt, Roy. (2013). Felons Deserve the Right to Vote. Huffington Post. Retrieved on April 27, 2015 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roy-speckhardt/felons-deserve-the-right-_b_3689568.html