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Voting Status of Convicted Felons May Determine Outcome of 2012 Election

As the  2012 general election fast approaches the issue still lingers from the past two  elections of  2004 and 2008 regarding the voting rights of convicted felons. Since many felons are democrats, the issue has far reaching importance for the outcome of the election.  Presently, state laws concerning whether a convicted felon is allowed to vote, even after serving out a sentence, are inconsistent. For example, in the state of Alabama persons convicted of a felony may apply to have their voting rights restored immediately upon completion of their full sentence. However, those convicted of certain felony offenses such as murder, rape, incest, sexual crime against children, and treason are not eligible for re-enfranchisement even after prison time and probation/parole have been completed.  Tennessee forbids persons from voting who are convicted of murder, rape, treason, voter fraud or any degree of murder or rape or any felony offense under TCA Title 39, Chapter 16, parts 1, 4, or 5; or any sexual offense under TCA § 40-39-202(17) or any violent sexual offense under TCA § 4039-202(25) designated as a felony and where the victim of such offense was a minor.  On the other hand two states see nothing wrong with allowing incarcerated felons the right to vote.  Maine and Vermont join the rankings with the European Union, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Peru that allow prisoners to vote while incarcerated.

Student Researcher:  Valerie Louis, Indian River State College

Sources:

Reiman, Jeffrey. “Liberal and Republican Arguments Against the Disenfranchisement of Felons.” Criminal Justice Ethics 24. 1 (2005): 3-18. Print.

Felonvoting. Procon.org. Pros and Cons. 2008. Web. 14 March 2012.
http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=1319

Faculty Instructor:  Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D. Indian River State College

DISCUSSION

As the  2012 general election fast approaches the issue still lingers from the past two  elections of  2004 and 2008 regarding the voting rights of convicted felons.  Is it morally, ethically, and universally correct to deny a person a second chance to execute their civic duties after committing and being convicted of a crime, once they have fulfilled their obligation to society?  It is an inconceivable misunderstanding that a mistake in a person’s past should characterize the rest of their life, particularly with regard to a core right to participate in a democratic process. In theory, as a nation we believe in rehabilitation, and encourage criminals to pursue a better path upon their release, yet it hardly seems fair or wise to place obstacles in their way, such as the idea that they ought not reflect on their society or participate as an equal in decisions about their future; it is a cruel and alienating policy with little if any public policy rationale. At the very least, it is far too extensive. After they have served their time, and perhaps after they have remained out of trouble for a period (such as five years), voting should be permissible. To preclude, for life, access to a core right, an activity that gives people a sense of belonging in a collective enterprise, due to mistakes for which time has been served, is a moral and practical travesty (often carrying undertones of racial discrimination, to boot).

Some would argue that a felon should not have the right to vote. Felons give up a lot of their rights when they break the law. Convicted felons have broken laws of society and are punished accordingly. One of the consequences of their unacceptable behavior, besides prison, should be that they lose the right to vote permanently.

An estimated 5.26 million people (as of 2004) with a felony conviction are barred from voting in elections – a condition known as disenfranchisement. Each state has its own laws on disenfranchisement. Vermont and Maine allow felons to vote while in prison; nine other states permanently restrict certain felons from voting; and of those nine states Florida is one that restricts voting rights for life. Not only if you are a convicted felon, but if you are convicted of a misdemeanor as well you’re voting privileges are taken away for life.  The only way your voting rights might be restored in Florida is that you have to go through the clemency board and this process could take years.  Felons who have paid their debt to society by completing their prison sentence and or parole and probation, and have not committed a crime should be granted all their civil rights and privileges.

Allowing felons to vote under strict supervision even from prison would demonstrate a sense of belonging.  While incarcerated and even after release from prison ex-convicts do not have a sense of belonging to society.  Most of them are rejected and dejected by family, friends, and potential employers. “Of the 5.3 million Americans barred from voting due to a criminal conviction, most of which are non-violent in nature, thirty-nine percent have fully completed their sentences, including probation and parole, yet such individuals are still deprived of their right to vote. In several states, people with criminal records encounter a variety of other barriers to voting, including, most often, cumbersome restoration processes or lengthy waiting periods before rights restoration applications may even be submitted” (Procon.org).  Having the right to vote would display signs of rehabilitation and “…recognize their obligations as respect to the rights of others” (Reiman, p. 11).  “Studies have shown that the benefits of voting are numerous. Individuals who vote generally help to make their communities safer and more vibrant by giving to charity, volunteering, attending school board meetings, serving on juries and participating more actively in their communities. Research has also shown that individuals who vote are less likely to be rearrested” (ACLU).

The extent and impact of the disenfranchisement laws in the United States are beyond assessment, especially with regard to the continued deprivation of voting rights after incarceration.  The United States is the harshest among the democratic free world when it comes to felons and their right to vote. “Countries in the European Union, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Peru” (Reiman, p. 11), along with Vermont and Maine allow prisoners to vote from prison.  Universally, as a whole collective body there is no conformity among nations regarding citizens right to vote.

The general election will take place in November and several states have already changed their voting criteria making it harder for people with criminal records to vote.  Most would say it is racially motivated, since the majority of incarcerated men are African-American, but this affects all Americans not just African-Americans.  Morally and ethically, it is unjust to refuse a convicted felon their right to vote after they have served their obligation(s) to society.

In order for an ex-convict to be a part of humanity, we as a society must embrace them so they feel like they belong to society and one of the ways of belonging is allowing them to participate in voting.

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