Felony disenfranchisement: keeping the ballot away

felonvotingThe Significant Other of a good friend of mine wrote on Facebook:

I think that Felony Disenfranchisement should be kept in place forever. Our Supreme Court ruled the that the 14th Amendment gives all states the right for deny ex-convicts to vote..To put it simply “” If you broke our laws and were not able to follow our laws”,,””I for one ,,do not want to give you the “”right”” to elect those who make our laws “GET IT” ????

I was sorely tempted to let it go, but there was something about “GET IT” ????” that just pushed a button.

I replied: “That notion suggests that there is no forgiveness, no chance at redemption. Current laws forbidding felons from voting make it harder for them to reintegrate into society, essentially facilitating recidivism. I TOTALLY disagree.”

Specifically, there are several reasons why disenfranchising felons who have served their time is a very bad idea:

The United States, while slow to embrace a more universal suffrage, nevertheless has a history of correcting the limits on the vote. The 15th Amendment states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Amendment 24: notes that voting “shall not be denied or abridged.. by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.” Of course the 19th Amendment allowed women the right to vote, and the 26th, the right for 18-year-olds.

There are mountains of data that confirm that conviction and sentencing people for the same crime is influenced by class/wealth, and yes, race and ethnicity. If Person A gets off with a misdemeanor, and Person B is slammed with a felony, that’s hardly equal protection under the law. To further the injustice after prison is piling on.

It is also well-documented that the United States has far more people in prison than any country in the world, far more than when Richardson v. Ramirez (1974) was decided in the SCOTUS. The prison population has grown fourfold in the past four decades, while the nation’s population has increased by less than 50% in that period.

And why is that? Could it be the over policing of America, where your daily actions are being incrementally criminalized?

Those convicted of crimes often come back to a community where it is difficult to reintegrate into society. Denying people that right to vote further isolates those individuals.

Finally, and I bring this up because the individual I quoted above has often pointed to a personal Christian faith, it seems counterintuitive to me that if Jesus forgave our sins that we not forgive the sins of others.

7 thoughts on “Felony disenfranchisement: keeping the ballot away”

  1. No surprise at all, I know, but I completely agree with you. It seems to me that there are two mutually exclusive goals here. On the one hand, we want to rehabilitate prisoners who have paid their debt to society, to reintegrate them into humanity. On the other, there’s the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” extremists who want to punish all criminals, not matter how petty, now and forever until they die.

    I back the former, and the goal of rehabilitation. While there might be a case for disenfranchising prisoners while they’re in prison, that reason disappears once they get out. Do we want ex-cons to be better people or not?!


  2. Another full agreement. There’s a strong desire in a lot of folks, it seems to me, to make sure that punishment endures in some way or other for an entire lifetime.

    (I also note with depressing frequency the rate at which this sort of viewpoint comes from people who spend the REST of their time making sure you know how Christian they are.)


  3. Arthur brings up “paid their debt to society,” and for me that’s the key. When they’ve served their time, they’ve paid their debt. Whatever rights and privileges had been suspended should be restored at that point.


  4. I can honestly see both sides to this. I agree these people have paid their debt to society and do deserve another chance, but as an employer, I would appreciate knowing as much as possible about a potential employee. If they were convicted of embezzlement, I think it would be beneficial to know if they are applying for a position where they would be handling money. it’s a fine line and I’m not sure there’s a one-size fits all solution.


    1. Here I’m specifically speaking of letting them vote. the lack of the ballot further isolates the ex-convict. Hiring people is a whole ‘nother conversation that should be addressed sometime.


  5. One out of three black men age 20-29 is either in jail, prison or on parole, predominately from minor drug offenses.

    I strongly agree that felony disenfranchisement is wrong, and I strongly support the decriminalization (although not legalization) of drug possession.


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