Should Felons Be Allowed To Vote
The right to vote is a right that according to law is entitled to everyone, once you have reached the legal age of 18. But what happens if you break the law? Do you still have the right to choose elected officials, or once the law has been broken, has the right to vote been forfeited?
According to the constitution the Fourteenth Amendment grants to the states the authority to deny voting rights to anyone that has a criminal conviction. On paper this does seem to be pretty valid, if you break the law, things that at one time you were entitled to are now no longer allowed. If a murderer has been allowed to vote for a client, who may benefit the perpetrator, it is a safe bet that the victim’s family would be outraged. There was one incident in Israel, where the assassin of the late Yitzak Rabin was allowed to vote, which alarmed the former Prime Minister’s wife. There are two points in regards to why convicted felons should vote:
- Felons are still a part of society, and do engage in the democratic process. If laws are changed affecting the court system, this very well could impact their lives.
- The other point is this is one of many ways that lawmakers, in particular members of the Republican Party have tried to disenfranchise voters.
There are arguments in regards to both of these points. When you look at the war on drugs, many of the convicted felons happen to be minorities; and when voter turnout is low, it does favor the Republican Party, all one needs to do is to look at the mid-term elections of 2014, where voter turnout was the lowest since World War II; and there is pretty solid data, that the majority of voters from minority backgrounds do vote liberal.
What are the reasons though why felons should not be able to vote? Like everything else, there are limits to freedom, as ironic as that sounds.
- Many feel there is a reason people are in jail, and life is about choices. Should someone be allowed to make choices that could have an affect on other people’s lives?
- Voting is privilege; when someone broke the law they forfeited their rights. Ignorance is not an excuse, people should know better.
These are also valid points, and one needs to be responsible, but if people have paid their debt to society, it is important to integrate them into society. When felons are still doing time, should they still be allowed? I would say no, but when their debt is paid it is important to bring them back, and allowing them to vote is essential.
The history of our nation is fraught with battles over its people’s rights, the right to vote being one of the foremost among them. The right to vote is linked to many other significant rights and principles, such as that of equality and justice. It should be denied to no eligible citizens, including to those who have infringed on the rights of others. Prisoners should be allowed the right to vote because this right is crucial to our classification as a democracy, the primary argument denying prisoners this right is based on a gross over-generalization, and prisoners’ voices matter.
The right to vote defines our nation as a democracy and should be afforded to all citizens. The denial of this right to any citizen, prisoners included, can lead to dangerous slippery slope consequences. We do not deny prisoners the right to free speech or religion, nor do we deny them the right to equal justice. We should restrict only the rights that in our imperfect justice system is necessary to ensure a just and functional democracy. If we take from a citizen the right to have his or her voice heard without harm to any other, what other infringements can we justify?
The primary argument against allowing prisoners the right to vote – that when one infringes on the right of another, he or she foregoes his or her own rights – is based on a gross generalization. This argument fails to take into account the significant number of prisoners who are incarcerated because of minor crimes or crimes that are mala prohibita – wrong not in itself but because it is prohibited by law. Drug crimes are a prime example; few would argue that a marijuana dealer should be afforded the same treatment as a serial killer.
Finally, prisoners’ voices matter. Prisoners’ voices are essential to the advancement of our criminal justice system. It can make possible a system that is based on rehabilitation and reintegration instead of one based on retribution. A significant fraction of prisoners are racial minorities or were financially disenfranchised prior to their incarceration. Racial profiling is rampant in our system today, and the voices of our nation’s poor need to be heard to ensure a more honest distribution of wealth. Denying prisoners the right to vote marginalizes whole segments of the population that are over-represented in our prison cells.
Prisoners should have the right to vote because this right is fundamental to a democracy, people are incarcerated for vastly different circumstances that undermine a generalized approach, and every citizen’s voice matters. We must stick by these principles or we fail ourselves and reject our own rights.
A “Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Vote” essay brings up a painful and sensible subject. Democracy is based on the equal rights for all citizens: freedom of speech and religion, right to a fair trial, right to privacy, etc. On the other hand, does somebody who has infringed on someone else’s rights save his privilege to be a participating member of democratic society? That is the crucial question in the discussion about voting rights for felons. Not all crimes have the same injurious act, and that’s the reason why specific categories of prisoners might retain their civil rights, including voting right.
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