Why Felons should be allowed to Vote

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Introduction

The rule of law in the United States of America entrusts voting rights to all its citizens who are above 18 years of age. However, this democratic right has been denied to citizens who have broken the law and as a result served time in prison. This is in agreement with the fourteenth amendment of the constitution that grants individual states the right to deny voting rights to citizens who have been criminally convicted. This has elicited mixed reactions among in the United States as critics come out in support of equality for all. Recently the state of Virginia passed executive orders which restored voting rights to over 200,000 ex-felons leaving only Kentucky-Florida and Iowa as the only states with lifelong disenfranchisement policies for ex-felons. This move was in support of public opinions which strongly advocated for the abolishment of laws which denied voting rights to prisoners and ex-felons. Although this process necessitates adequate due diligence, there exists a number of reasons as to why it should be embraced. This paper thereby seeks to analyze some reasons why felons should be allowed to vote by showing the advantages associated with prisoner voting rights.

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First and foremost, constitutional ideals in the United States support the voting rights of prisoners. As a result, denying them the right to vote is a direct violation of the concept of self-governance and democracy compromising its integrity. Granting voting rights to prisoners and ex-felons is in support for the country’s politics and policy formulation as prisons. These policies have had to put up with growing populations, prisoner maltreatment, increased number of deaths in cells as well as other criminal injustice malpractices which can only be quelled by allowing those incarcerated to air their political views and opinions in a bid to solve these intractable problems by representing themselves in national and political domains (Gottschalk and Marie 255).

Over the years, the debate on whether prisons and ex-felons should be allowed to vote has become virtually non-extinct. This is because there are only two states Vermont and Maine which allow for prison voting rights. In addition, most lawmakers agree that fewer efforts have been put towards ensuring that prison rights are advocated for a factor that has been evidenced by the revoking of these rights in states such as Massachusetts and Utah (Whitt and Matt 265). This is because the issue of prison voting rights has not been fully conceptualized by the political elite who claim that it is not the business of inmates to decide who should govern law abiding citizens. In addition, across many stars revoking prison voting rights has been premised on the idea that criminals ought to be subjected to a civic death which is a suspension of other rights enjoyed by law-abiding citizens and hence should not vote. Although this is true, the American government has over the past century fought against civil death (Gray and Anthony 3). This has been achieved by the affirmation of constitutional rights for prisoners by both the Supreme Court and the congress. As a result, prisoners can now exercise freedom of worship as well as free speech rights which allow them to hold and express political opinions. Most importantly prisoners have not been stripped off their citizenship as punishment for their crimes and should thus be allowed to vote just like other law abiding citizens. Also, lawmakers have concurred to the fact that prisoners are lawful American citizens and as a result, retain their civic status through their sentences and should thus be allowed to exercise the most civic right of voting. This is because disenfranchising them engenders a class of people who are subjects of the law through punishment but cannot influence the manner in which they are governed (Gray 3).

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The denial of voting rights for prisoners and ex-felons has created a caste system designed to perpetuate selfish agendas within the society by the political as well as economic elites. This is because a vast population of prisoners in the United States cannot exercise their voting rights yet they are often noted to be part of the population in reference to the legislative district of their prison. This creates some discrepancies as the total population count is significant in the determination of a state’s number of representatives as well as its presidential electoral votes (Mason et al. 183). Such a policy is tantamount to the constitutions three-fifths clause which prohibited slaves from voting while counting them in the census in order amass more pro-slavery representatives, which made it difficult to abolish the vice.

Allowing prisoners to vote is essential in improving not only the welfare of the prisoners themselves but also improving the standards of the prisons as well. In other advanced democracies across the globe have as a result acknowledged prisoner voting rights. For instance, in 2005, the European court of human rights made a ruling noting that the banning of prisoner voting rights in the Europe was a violation of their democratic rights (Mason et al., 185). For this reason, the court ruled out that revoking prisoners’ rights by revoking their liberty was enough punishment for their crimes. However American critics argue that allowing prisoners to vote would give them the ability to run the asylum. However, scholars agree that prisons would benefit as prisoners would vote as neural defenders in the protection of their interests which would substantially improve the prisons and their systems as well.

Increased prisoner abuse has also been a reason to advocate for prisoner voting rights. Over the year’s cases of inhumane and abusive practices have been reported across a number of correctional facilities in the country. According to statics, an inmate is reported dead every week, a factor that has been attributed to the violation of the Eighth Amendment which was enacted to curb overcrowding in prisons as well as plenty of other prison practices such as solitary confinement which is being scrutinized by humanitarian organizations across the country. If the current systems are to be followed, it will take a lot of legislative years to mitigate prisoner maltreatment issues thereby making it impossible to respond rapidly. As a result, creating prisoner constituencies and allowing voting rights would be a milestone towards ensuring that the prison system is enhanced (Neubauer et al. 93).

Granting prisoner voter rights is essential in reforming the country’s criminal judicial systems. Over the past two years, the political elite has shown much interest in connecting with the incarcerated in various correctional facilities in the country. The creation of prison and jail constituencies previously explained will allow offering a platform that will enable our politicians to hold town halls which will enable them to seek mechanisms to improve jail and prison conditions from the perspective of those who are already under these circumstances (Neubauer et al.  90). Although this could be seen as coddling prisoners, reform agendas will be developed, and politicians will have to come up reforms aimed at streamlining the correctional facilities by improving the criminal justice system first. However, this cannot be achieved when felons have been denied voter rights.

Research findings across multiple states in the Unites States have revealed that to realize the end goal of allowing ex-felons to vote then it is important to ensure that the exercise is enjoyed even while they are still inmates. However, critics argue that if felons are permitted to vote, the primary focus of the stakeholders involved would not solve the current problems of mass incarceration as well as racial injustices of the existing criminal justice system but would rather address the issue of imprisonment of too many people which leads to overcrowding in correctional facilities (Neubauer et al.  101).

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There are numerous ideas that support the decision to allow prisoners to vote. It is the constitutional right of all prisoners to exercise their democratic right to vote, hence, denying prisoners the right to vote conflicts with the concept of self-government that was promoted by the founders of America. Moreover, it is clear that granting prisoners their right is bound to make sense of the policy and politics that have been observed in the American environment (Brettschneider). It is important to note that prisons have suffered an increase in population for the last few decades. Therefore, there have been an increase in the cases of prisoner maltreatment and calls for criminal justice reform. One of the most important and simplest ways of restoring confidence in the criminal justice system is to permit prisoners to participate in the national political conversation.

The primary goal of any prison or the criminal justice system, in general, is to rehabilitate individuals that have been involved in various crimes all over the nation. Denying prisoners their right to vote conflicts with the initial goal of the criminal justice system that demands the restoration of hope and confidence in the individuals that are imprisoned. Prisoners that have been released from the criminal justice system should be allowed to participate in different political, economic and social activities. Voting presents a political responsibility for all the individuals in the nation (Brettschneider). Hence, prisoners should not be excluded from the citizens in the nation that have a voice about the operation of their nation.

Prisoners are also under the jurisdiction of the political class that is selected by the electorate. Therefore, they are affected by the policies and laws that are established by the ruling class. Moreover, prisoners also have families, who they protect and safeguard from irresponsible political governance. Hence, allowing prisoners to vote provides them with an opportunity to participate in the national political selection of the political rulers in the nation.

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In conclusion, the repercussions of prisoner voting are potentially transformative. There growing number of Americans in prisons is in expected to rise to a staggering 3 million in the next decade and thus requires a sensible approach to regulating prisoner voting. A reasonable approach could entail the counting of inmates as part of their home district and be allowing them to vote from there. This would in effect in help to mitigate the Democratic Party that arises when the right to vote is compared against the weight of representation. Although the enactment of prisoner voting rights has is not yet a national agenda, the increasing post-felony disenfranchisement make it necessary to reflect upon the issue considering the benefits that will arise such as the improvement of our criminal justice system, the decrease of prisoner maltreatment as well as improvement of prison conditions among others.

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  1. Brettschneider, Corey. “Why Prisoners Deserve The Right To Vote”. POLITICO Magazine. N.p., 2017. Web. 7 Apr. 2017.
  2. Gottschalk, Marie. Caught: The prison state and the lockdown of American politics. Princeton University Press, 2016. 251-256
  3. Gray, Anthony. “Securing felons’ voting rights in America.” Berkeley J. Afr.-Am. L. & Pol’y 16 (2014): 3.
  4. Mason, Alpheus Thomas, and Grier Stephenson. American constitutional law: introductory essays and selected cases. Routledge, 2015.
  5. Neubauer, David W., and Henry F. Fradella. America’s courts and the criminal justice system. Cengage Learning, 2015.
  6. Spates, Kamesha, and Carlton Mathis. “Preserving dignity: Rethinking voting rights for US prisoners, lessons from South Africa.” Journal of Pan African Studies 7.6 (2014): 84-106.
  7. Whitt, Matt. “Felon Disenfranchisement and Democratic Legitimacy.” Social Theory and Practice (2017). 260-265
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