The history of our nation is fraught with battles over its people’s rights, the right to vote being one of the foremost among them. The right to vote is linked to many other significant rights and principles, such as that of equality and justice. It should be denied to no eligible citizens, including to those who have infringed on the rights of others. Prisoners should be allowed the right to vote because this right is crucial to our classification as a democracy, the primary argument denying prisoners this right is based on a gross over-generalization, and prisoners’ voices matter.
The right to vote defines our nation as a democracy and should be afforded to all citizens. The denial of this right to any citizen, prisoners included, can lead to dangerous slippery slope consequences. We do not deny prisoners the right to free speech or religion, nor do we deny them the right to equal justice. We should restrict only the rights that in our imperfect justice system is necessary to ensure a just and functional democracy. If we take from a citizen the right to have his or her voice heard without harm to any other, what other infringements can we justify?
The primary argument against allowing prisoners the right to vote – that when one infringes on the right of another, he or she foregoes his or her own rights – is based on a gross generalization. This argument fails to take into account the significant number of prisoners who are incarcerated because of minor crimes or crimes that are mala prohibita – wrong not in itself but because it is prohibited by law. Drug crimes are a prime example; few would argue that a marijuana dealer should be afforded the same treatment as a serial killer.
Finally, prisoners’ voices matter. Prisoners’ voices are essential to the advancement of our criminal justice system. It can make possible a system that is based on rehabilitation and reintegration instead of one based on retribution. A significant fraction of prisoners are racial minorities or were financially disenfranchised prior to their incarceration. Racial profiling is rampant in our system today, and the voices of our nation’s poor need to be heard to ensure a more honest distribution of wealth. Denying prisoners the right to vote marginalizes whole segments of the population that are over-represented in our prison cells.
Prisoners should have the right to vote because this right is fundamental to a democracy, people are incarcerated for vastly different circumstances that undermine a generalized approach, and every citizen’s voice matters. We must stick by these principles or we fail ourselves and reject our own rights.
A “Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Vote” essay brings up a painful and sensible subject. Democracy is based on the equal rights for all citizens: freedom of speech and religion, right to a fair trial, right to privacy, etc. On the other hand, does somebody who has infringed on someone else’s rights save his privilege to be a participating member of democratic society? That is the crucial question in the discussion about voting rights for felons. Not all crimes have the same injurious act, and that’s the reason why specific categories of prisoners might retain their civil rights, including voting right.
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Felons Should Not Be Allowed to Vote. At Issue: Are American Elections Fair? Stuart A. Kallen. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006.
The article Felons Should Not Be Allowed to Vote argues that former felons should not have their voting rights restored once they regain their freedom. The author believes felons need to be deprived of their voting rights for life as a symbolic price they have to pay for violating certain social and legal norms. The article is structured in an unusual and, in my opinion, an effective manner. It first presents the arguments of those supporting the idea of re-enfranchising felons, and then provides the author’s reasons not to agree with the idea.
The first part of the article mainly focuses on the idea that the question of whether or not to renew one’s right to vote is strictly political: if felons cannot vote, then voting is no longer representative. In states like Florida, numerous districts with high crime rates would have practically lost their voting power since so many of its citizens have been disenfranchised. Such districts are likely to be populated by a particular ethnic or racial group that has higher crime rates, and therefore, this group would no longer be able to vote for the candidate they would otherwise have supported. Depriving felons of the right to vote for a lifetime means we would no longer have a fair representation of voters of different ethnic groups. This, on the other hand, may directly affect which candidate ultimately gets elected, and later on, what kind of executive decisions might be taken in favor of, or against, certain groups of voters.
However, the author of the article disagrees with this opinion by arguing that there are many other victimized and deprived groups that deserve more attention in advocating their rights than ex-felons. The author claims that if a certain person went on to disobey the law and the social values society generally accepts, he or she deserves never to have the right to vote restored since he or she is not that conscious a citizen in the first place. The author calls this denial of felons’ franchise for life a “debt” they have to pay back to society for harming one, or more, of its members.
I believe the topic being discussed is arguable, and just like how people cannot agree on whether or not the death penalty should be completely abolished, people are likely to disagree about the re-enfranchisement of felons as well. I believe what is important here is to stress that not all people who have ever been convicted of a crime should be treated in the same manner. I think we all will agree that murder, bank robbery, rape, and blackmail are crimes of different categories. In the same way, we do not sentence all felons to the same punishment, we should not talk about all felons as if they are the same. I strongly believe people deserve forgiveness, at least most of them do. While some will argue the right to vote is not quite that important in life, I think it can be a significant symbol of trust. If we trust someone enough to participate in the life of community, we will likely empower that person to justify our trust with their future behavior. At least I hope it is true for most cases.
I would disagree with the author of the article in that I believe that with the exception of felons who committed particularly serious or violent crimes, the majority of those who regain freedom also need to regain the ability to make responsible choices with the rest of the community, and that includes having the right to vote. Otherwise, if we keep reminding ex-felons of their former mistakes, they will never feel like they belong in the community and will forever remain deviants in the eyes of our society, and behave likewise too.
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