Felon Voting Rights

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By Jail Resource



The tide on voting restrictions for those incarcerated or convicted of certain crimes is slowly moving in the direction of democratic principals, but still some voters remain cast aways. Decades after the civil rights movement and nearly a century after the Women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s there are still millions of Americans who are barred from voting. In many cases they are not felons, they are behind bars at county jails on misdemeanors. For millions of Americans being able to vote is a matter of the wrong place at the wrong time come early November.

Today, Maine and Vermont are the only states to allow voting universally regardless of a persons past crimes or current incarceration. 12 states have strict laws on voting that may permanently deny someones right to vote depending on their incarceration, parole, and/or probation status. Another 23 prevent voting until parole and/or probation is completed. The remaining 13 states and the District of Columbia allow voting once incarceration ends.

There is no comprehensive amendment or constitutional provision governing the most basic tenant of our democracy. Instead the framers of our constitution left the question of voting open to states. This has created disparity in laws and regulations that swing wildly from state to state. Reasons for this vary, but most would agree it comes down to the earliest of debates during the colonial period: states rights versus federalism. The problems created by 50 different laws for a single right have over the time been taken up by Congress (in the form of numerous laws and two amendments) and by various Supreme Court decisions.

Detractors of inmate, misdemeanor, and felon voting rights certainly have their arguments against loosening or abolishing voting restrictions.

“It’s really an abomination that felons are allowed to vote,” said Rob Roper, the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party. “Who are they going to vote for? The people who are going to spend more money on prisons and who are going to let them out early so they can commit more crimes?”

The line of thought espoused by Mr. Roper is a very slippery slope. Why should people in condition X be allowed to vote when they will certainly vote for position Y. If we don’t agree with that particular position and those in that condition are more likely to vote for said position, then we should restrict their rights. Fallacies like Mr. Roper’s should be vigorously confronted and dismissed in the media. It’s no ones job or right to determine who should be able to vote and who or what they should vote for.

In the current political climate voting rights for the incarcerated and convicted felons is certainly a tough sell. However our county and the rights we’ve worked so hard for have always been tough sells. The United States was built on and has been revolutionized to include more and more rights, not restrict them. Certainly very few look back upon the triumphs of Women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights era as abominations. It’s reasonable to assume future progress in voting rights will enjoy the same support. As a nation we must work our way through these rough tides so we may add more rights to our national cargo.

About the Author: JailResource.com is an online community for inmates, their friends and family. We seek to provide information on all county and local jails, bring abuses to light, and provide a platform for those affected either directly or indirectly by the jail system. Jail Resource does so by: vetting bail bonds companies to ensure they comply with local and federal regulations, providing a vibrant online community for inmates, friends and family, and by keeping an up-to-date database of county jail information.


3 thoughts on “Felon Voting Rights

  1. Anyone who hasn’t read “The New Jim Crow” should–we have a problem on our hands when we deny the right to vote to any subgroup.


  2. This is a hugely important issue. I think that everyone IN prison during any election local to their home jurisdiction (not the prison’s) and/or national elections should be allowed to vote absentee for any and all. I think that a commonsense justice system (which is the opposite of what we have) would encourage democratic participation by those in the prison system and offer classes in citizenship like they do for sobriety and other things that earn “good time.” I would bet there is a huge correlation between repeat and/or violent offenders and lack of participation in the democratic process, i.e., voting, and awareness about issues in elections, before their incarceration. Learning the power of being a voice for change, of being heard, of being part of the enfranchised and having a stake in the outcomes of elections in which we each have a voice may be a very powerful motivator for many in the system. It’s unconscionable, at a minimum, that after a sentence is served a felon can’t vote. It would piss me off enough to remain a life-time outlaw, and I’ve never had more than a traffic ticket, myself. This absolutely needs to change, and I say bring absentee voting into the prison system. What kind of democratic republic of a government disenfranchises ANYONE?


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