Should convicted felons lose voting rights while in prison?
- A felony is defined as “a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment of one year or more” in which the offender is subject to lose some civil rights, including “the right to own or possess firearms, the right to vote, and the right to hold public office.”
- Each US state varies in its permitting of felons to vote, either while incarcerated or thereafter. In Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, felons never lose their right to vote--even while in prison.
- A 2019 Hill-HarrisX survey revealed that 69% of registered voters do not think that jailed felons should be allowed to vote.
- As of 2020, there are more than 5 million convicted felons unable to vote in the US.
Many felons have been wrongfully convicted or convicted without a fair trial. Preventing them from voting allows any given administration an excuse to jail as many people as possible who may be against its ideologies. Felons are affected by political decisions, especially if politicians want to score political points by punishing criminals even more harshly. The existence of a class of adults who cannot vote on government policy that directly affects them contradicts the basic tenets of democracy itself--especially in a government founded on the principle of fair representation.
Many prisoners are counted for census and congressional representation in the district in which their prison is located. Their bodies provide political capital for the district in which they can't actually vote. This practice is strikingly similar to the notorious three-fifths compromise, which determined congressional representation by counting the slaves in a given region. The slaveowners who pushed for this compromise exploited their slaves' bodies for labor, profit, and political power, while ensuring that the slaves themselves had no civil or political rights of their own.
Having committed a crime doesn't render someone unable to consider and choose between different candidates and propositions rationally. Ethnic minorities, the poor, and the disabled are all more likely to be arrested, regardless of their actual innocence, so removing them from the voting pool privileges the political rights of wealthy, able-bodied white voters. Voting is a fundamental right of any citizen in a democratic country, and no citizen should be deprived of this right by their government.
When someone commits a felony, they waive the right to many things, including freedom, property, and sometimes even their own life.
The concept of felony has been a legal precedent for hundreds of years. It originated in English common law, which described it as a crime in which confiscation of land and goods are warranted. In modern times, the label applies to the gravest of offenses, and in the United States, it constitutes a crime punishable by death or at least a year in prison. The loss of the right to vote after committing a felony is consistent with the criterion of a felony sentence and is by no means unlawful.
A convicted felon is someone who has committed a serious crime that, in almost all cases, involved either violence or pronounced malicious intent. Giving someone who spurned the most foundational laws agreed upon by the community, the ability to pick the community's leaders is ludicrous. They have forfeited this right by reneging on the fundamental agreements of civilized society.
Children enjoy full civil rights protected by the federal government. Yet they are barred from voting. Why? Because a child's judgment is not trustworthy enough to make important decisions that affect the whole community. The same principle should be (and currently is) applied to felons. They have proven their serious lapse in judgment through their criminal actions; therefore, they should not be trusted with the paramount civic responsibility in our democracy.
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