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Should Felons be Allowed to Vote?
A Felon: A person who has been convicted of a felony, which is a crime punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison. A felony is a serious crime usually punishable by imprisonment or death. In other words a felony is a big deal. Felons have been convicted of a crime including, or in the same category as murder, rape, arson, and burglary. It is because of this that many believe that felons do not deserve the right to vote. Those against felons voting believe that those convicted of crime have shown bad-judgment, which proves them unfit to make good decisions, especially choosing the nation's leaders (“ProCon.org”). There are also those however, that believe that felons have paid enough of a price by serving their assigned sentence.
One of the major questions in this controversy is: what exactly are the rights of ex-felons? Many of the supporters of a felon’s right to vote believe that it is unfair to seemingly punish them twice for the same act. They believe that a felon’s debt to society is their time behind bars; they don’t believe that a felon should lose their vote and spend time behind bars. “Felons who are out of prison have largely served the punishment prescribed by the judicial system. Shouldn't that be enough?”(Mauer). They believe that incarceration and losing their right to vote, would be too many punishments for one crime. Edward Feser, however, has a point against this. “Few people would say that the drunk driver sentenced to lose his license and pay a hefty fine is punished twice. Most would agree that given the crime the two components are perfectly apt.”(Feser). Just because they have paid enough of their debt to be allowed out of prison, does not mean there are not continuing consequences (Clegg).
Other arguments of the advocates to the voting rights of felons include the data from a study suggesting that former offenders who vote are less likely to return to jail. Others believe that without the right to vote, “… may actually contribute to recidivism by keeping ex-offenders and their families disengaged from the civic mainstream.” (Feser). This seems like a good point but the results of the study could have been misinterpreted. Voting doesn’t make someone responsible, although, the responsible person will be likelier to vote. This means, that, “a former inmate who already has what it takes to clean up his act, is not likely to relapse into a life of crime just because they can’t cast a ballot (Feser).”
The claim that voting is a basic and unalienable right, has no substance for an argument. The declaration of Independence states that unalienable rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It does not say life, liberty and the right to vote. Locke, who played an important part in the founding of America, also believed that each individual had certain rights that by nature they were entitled to, however, he also believed that the government had a duty to protect those rights. If someone violates another’s rights to life, liberty and property, then they forfeit their own rights to these things and society can punish him by removing their rights. The criminal has broken their social contract and violated the trust of their fellow citizens.
In addition, not everyone is allowed to vote. Children, non citizens and those mentally incompetent are among those whose rights, do not include voting. “Voting requires certain minimum, objective standards of trustworthiness, loyalty and responsibility, and those who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens do not meet those standards.” (Clegg). Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project and author of “Race to Incarcerate,” believes that in a democracy everyone's voice should count, no matter what their views or behavior. However, Appendix 1 shows how ridiculous and ironic it would be to let former inmates vote.
Racism is also a major concern in determining the justness of disenfranchising felons. Many believe that it is racist to deprive them of the right to vote because the felon population is of a black majority. This does not, however, prove that racism is to blame. More men commit the majority of serious crimes, and unfortunately, blacks also commit a disproportionate amount of felonies, which is shown in victim surveys. Either way the felon either does or does not deserve their punishment, regardless of what race they are (ProCon.org).
The argument of a felon’s right to vote is an important one because with roughly 5.3 million Americans unable to vote because they are ex-felons, whether or not they are able to vote could make a serious difference come Election Day. Take the 2000 election for example. Had ex-felons been able to vote in Florida, Al Gore would have almost certainly become the president instead of George W. Bush. Because of this many democrats have endorsed the felon’s right, one of them being Hillary Clinton (Holding).
Committing a serious crime usually depicts an image of bad judgment. Roger Clegg, president of the conservative advocacy group, Center for Equal opportunity believes that, “If you aren’t willing to follow the law, you can’t claim the right to make the law for everyone else.” By breaking the law and using bad judgment, they have also proven themselves unfit to participate in major decision making, i.e. choosing the nation’s leaders (Holding).
Leola Strickland has her own ideas about this law. Strickland, plead guilty to a felony of bounced checks after accidentally postdating three checks right before losing her job; she would like her right to vote back (Holding). “I always voted. My vote may be the one that counts to get the right person in office. It may be foolish of me to think like that, but that’s how I feel.” Cases like these are why many people have suggested some sort of compromise. The American Correctional Association, “... calls on states to cut through the confusing thicket of disenfranchisement laws by explaining clearly to inmates how they get their rights back after completing their sentences.” (“New York Times”).
Other suggested solutions include the general banning of a felons right to vote once they are convicted, with the option to petition for reinstatement after a certain number of years. “ The decision to restore the right to vote should not be made automatically. It should be made carefully, weighing the seriousness of the crime, how long ago it was committed, whether there is a pattern of crime, and any evidence that the felon has really turned over a new leaf. This idea seems to be the most satisfying conclusion for both sides and could work well to give those who deserve it their right to vote.
Although, advocates against the disenfranchisement of felons, have made some good points, there is not enough evidence to hold up the argument that it is wrong to take away the right to vote from felons. Felons for the most part have displayed actions of bad judgment and the addition of ex-felon ballots would make many uncomfortable at the thought of the tainting of the election. The election of the president is too serious of a matter to allow irresponsible ex-felons the privilege of voting. However, all things considered, more should be discussed about the compromise of felons voting. The idea of reinstatement of those that are ruled to deserve it, would be beneficial to those of both parties.