Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Vote?

Senator Bernie Sanders ignited a new political debate recently when he said during a televised town hall that inmates should maintain their voting rights, even when locked up. Yes, even the ďterribleĒ ones.

Itís a controversial thing to say, but the case to keep prisoners voting is pretty compelling. For starters, a right as fundamental as voting should be a constant. As Sanders contends, itís a slippery slope when you start making up excuses for disenfranchising other American citizens.

In other countries, youíll frequently see leaders jail their political rivals specifically to stop them from taking power back democratically. Given all of the other unethical tactics a certain American political party has taken to suppress the vote of certain demographics of people, you donít want to incentivize imprisoning people for potential political gain.

JUSTICE?

For some, that probably seems too far down the proverbial slippery slope to discuss, but consider for a moment the state of our existing prison system. The U.S. alone has 25 percent of the worldís incarcerated population, meaning that the country is already effectively disenfranchising millions.

Then thereís the matter of who gets incarcerated. Racial disparity runs rampant in the justice system. People of color are many times more likely to have their neighborhoods policed, get charged with a crime, get convicted of a crime and sentenced more harshly than their white counterparts.

Itís not all a matter of minorities involved in more crime either. In the case of drugs, studies show white people use drugs at similar rates to black people in America, itís just that black people are six times more likely to be charged with a drug crime.

The 24th Amendment rightly eliminated poll taxes, but with so many people locked up simply because they canít afford to pay to get out, or because poverty is a driving factor in them committing crimes in order to get by, hundreds of thousands of Americans are effectively being denied their vote based on financial circumstances.

Flip that and look at how rare it is for wealthy people to serve time. Wall Street executives commit massive financial crimes, and the worst that happens is their companies get fined. The wealthy donate to politicians to ensure that lawmakers donít regulate them in a way that would land any of them in prison. Theyíre not only maintaining their right to vote despite committing arguably worst crimes than the poor, theyíre also straight up buying the elections.

ITíS A HARD SELL

The reasons not to disenfranchise prisoners may be strong, but itís not likely to happen anytime soon because the American people arenít having it. In a new poll, a solid 75 percent of Americans said they opposed the idea. What legislator wants to take that issue up, then?

Fox News and others have mocked Sen. Sanders by depicting some of the most notorious criminals in history and saying how outrageous it is that he wants them to vote. Itís an effective tactic because people donít want to think about murderers and rapists choosing our leaders.

For every violent offender in jail, there are many more there on trumped up drug charges that probably should maintain the right to vote. Some may worry that a collective voting bloc of inmates could elect leaders to change drug laws, but lawmakers already seem to agree that sentencing reform on drug charges is necessary.

Meanwhile, if you think that enough jailed murderers can get together to democratically change the laws on murderÖ now thereís a real slippery slope argument. As for the rapists, letís not forget that only 1 out of 200 rapes will land a rapist in jail. In other words, plenty of rapists are already voting in our elections due to the justice systems failure to hold them accountable.

Just like with voter ID laws, the real aim seems to be to disenfranchise many people, and that people accept it anyway in order to keep a certain smaller people from voting, even though the results are undemocratic.

Take Action!

Prisoners in Maine, Sandersís home state of Vermont and county jails in California already enjoy the right to vote and it has not led to pandemonium. If you agree that prisoners should be able to vote, sign this petition directed at U.S. Congress, or start one of your own to get the legislature in your state to take similar action:

 

54 comments

Thomas M
Thomas M1 days ago

thanks for posting

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Christine V
Christine V4 days ago

A lot of things to consider on this issue.

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danii p
danii p9 days ago

thanks for sharing

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danii p
danii p9 days ago

thanks for sharing

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danii p
danii p9 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Leanne K
Leanne K14 days ago

I wonder how many actually would vote if they could

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Leanne K
Leanne K14 days ago

Wouldn't they love it if you let them go to a polling booth.

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danii p
danii p16 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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danii p
danii p16 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Sherri S
Sherri S18 days ago

Prisoners should not be allowed to vote. They lost their rights when they violated the law.

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