Ex-Convicts Deserve to Have Their Voting Rights Restored
Known as civil death or felony disenfranchisement, today’s criminal offender loses the right to vote for a pre-determined amount of time. Every state interprets the conditions under which these civil rights are restored and, according to Keyssar, ten states keep permanent civil death on the books to be used, as appropriate.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law during Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency was originally designed to prevent voters of color from experiencing discrimination when voting. The United States Supreme Court-as protection for all voting qualifications-has expanded the Act’s interpretation to returning the right to vote after committing a felony.
Restoring a person’s right to vote after a felony conviction is an important-and necessary-
- The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive punishment for all Americans and states that the punishment should be in balance with the crime while decreasing as desirable changes are made by the perpetrator. When we remove an ex-felon’s civil right to vote, we violate this Amendment by refusing to lighten the ‘punishment’.
- The intent of criminal punishment is to ultimately rehabilitate the offender and return him or her to society as a contributing member. When an offender meets all the requirements for the punishment, returning the right to vote encourages social responsibility, participation, and pride in becoming a law-abiding citizen.
- Paying for a crime amounts to a contract between the offender and the State. Just as any other contract, once the terms have been fully met, the contract is no longer valid and neither the State nor ex-convict are bound by it any longer.
In conclusion, for society to function, the collective group must hold criminals responsible for their actions. Jail time, restitution, and other penalties restore the balance against people and property and act as a deterrent for those who value their contribution to their neighborhood. It is not, however, society’s job to suspend ethical behavior in order to keep the ex-felon a prisoner, even when he or she is paroled.
Keyssar, A. (2009). The right to vote: The contested history of democracy in the United States. New York: Basic Books.
Lopez-Guerra, C. (2014). Disenfranchisement on the Basis of Felony Convictions. Democracy and Disenfranchisement,109-132. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198705789.003.0005
Shove, E., Watson, M., Hand, M., & Ingram, J. (2007). The design of everyday life. New York: Berg.
Supreme Court Justice and former Circuit Judge of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Dissent in Hayden v. Pataki, Supreme Court. (2006) (testimony of Hayden v Pataki).