Why Shouldn’t Felons Be Allowed to Vote?

This year Florida voters were presented with a ballot measure proposing to restore voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million ex-convicts: people who committed crimes, went to prison, did their time and were released — but couldn’t vote. That’s because the state, along with just two others, permanently strips voting rights from people convicted of crimes.

Amendment 4 is sparking a necessary conversation about an oft-neglected aspect of voting rights at a time when many people are growing aware of voter suppression and other tools used to bias the vote.

Six million people in the United States cannot vote because of felon disenfranchisement, a reflection of the growing size of the penal system. Racial inequalities in the justice system mean that many of those people are black and Latinx. One in 13 black Americans has lost voting rights due to these kinds of voting restrictions.

In states like Florida with outsized prison systems, disenfranchisement has an outsized impact.

Amendment 4 targeted the most obvious, low-hanging fruit in this debate: people who have — in the eyes of the law — completed their sentences, yet find themselves still serving time in a sense because they cannot fully participate in their communities. Ex-convicts already deal with employment and housing discrimination, along with barriers like being behind on job skills after years behind bars — but losing voting rights is an extremely low blow.

Without being able to vote, people can’t decide who represents them in local, state and federal government. They can’t weigh in on ballot measures, or engage in other activities that require them to be registered voters — like signing petitions to put things on the ballot.

Proponents of Amendment 4 stress that it’s designed to provide the “second chance” society claims people deserve: Should people be punished forever for crimes, or should they be offered an opportunity at redemption?

But it should also open up opportunities to talk about felon disenfranchisement more widely. While only three states take voting rights off the table forever without a gubernatorial pardon, plenty of others limit voting rights in various ways.

Some have life-long restrictions for certain crimes; others only allow people to vote after completing prison, parole and probation. Meanwhile, some states automatically restore voting rights after release; in other cases, people need to apply. It’s a confusing, tangled web of regulations, and many prison systems don’t communicate well about them when people are released.

Just two states have come up with the obvious solution to the problem of abridging voting rights for felons: They don’t do it.

In Vermont and Maine, committing a crime is not grounds for rescinding the right to vote — and, in fact, people can vote from prison. These states recognize voting as a fundamental civil right, and they believe prisoners who wish to participate in elections should be able to do so — not least because they have a very real state in conversations on the ballot about prison issues, whether they’re talking about sentencing reform or candidates who have taken a “tough on crime” stance.

The thought of allowing convicts to retain voting rights may seem unpalatable to some voters, but hopefully Amendment 4 will get them thinking about this issue and may pave the way via baby steps.

Maybe you’re not comfortable opening the ballot box to people in prison, for example, but how do you feel about letting people vote when they’ve been released into society, or after they’ve completed parole? If you want to liven up dinner table arguments this year, that might be a good topic to discuss.

There’s no evidence to suggest that allowing convicts to vote has had a tremendous impact on elections, but it has empowered incarcerated people to participate in democracy and society. People who feel like they’re playing an active role in their communities are better prepared for contributing to society upon re-entry, which sets them up for long-term success after release.

This sets the stage for making amends for crimes and integrating into the community, illustrating that a crime — no matter how heinous — doesn’t have to be the first and last thing about someone.

Photo credit: Mr. T in DC/Creative Commons

41 comments

Chad A
Chad A3 days ago

Thank you.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E9 days ago

paul b
I suggest you do some further research on your allegation about Mr. Frank and "voter fraud". It went to the Supreme court and still Coleman I think his name is challenged it even AFTER Mr. Frank was given the seat..
You Washington Examiner source is VERY right wing and I'm about to look at you alternate source.
Nice try paul. You're JUST like trump AND david f

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Janis K
Janis K9 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica D9 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica D9 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica D9 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Debbi W
Debbi W10 days ago

Once a prisoner is released, how is he/she suppose to feel connected to the town or city were they live or the country if they have no connect to it?

Petition signed.

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Lisa M
Lisa M10 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M10 days ago

Thanks.

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Christine Stewart
Christine S10 days ago

thanks

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