Felons deserve vote

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 1:48PM

If you are a convicted felon, your right to vote varies from state to state. Hold on, what? That’s right. Your RIGHT has been taken away- a civic duty you can no longer complete. As of April 21, 2016, twelve states did not let felons vote EVEN AFTER they completed their sentences, parole, and probation.



People vote to make changes in their lives. Votes and laws affect everything in life. This is a way people make choices. A life without the possibility to make a lasting choice for yourself sounds like a life sentence. With the current laws in those states, this means that even if their prison sentence is 30 years, they’re serving a life sentence where they don’t get to make choices.



On April 22, that number of twelve states shrunk to eleven. The governor of Virginia restored voting rights to violent and non-violent felons in the state who have completed their sentences. Prior to this, Virginia barred felons from their right to vote, even after leaving prison.



The taking away of the right to vote is called disenfranchisement. This felon disenfranchisement is estimated to affect a total of 5.85 million Americans (New York Times).



That, my friends, is anti-democratic and really, truly, Anti-American.



Felon disenfranchisement dates back to the times when slavery surrounded everyone. The roots of disenfranchisement are racist. These roots have even come up in recent history, just proving to the people of the United States how very real of a problem this is. In 1985, the Supreme Court case Hunter v. Underwood took place. A worthless check was presented by an African American and a white male, and they were denied the right to vote in Alabama. Delegates repeatedly stated they were not trying to disenfranchise “whites”, but “blacks” (Hunter v. Underwood). “Persons convicted of crimes ‘involving moral turpitude’ were not allowed to vote” (New York Times). This case was struck down on account of African-Americans being so disproportionately affected. Alabama’s desire for white supremacy through taking away a person’s choice, and ultimately free-will, was rendered unconstitutional. Friendly reminder this case took place in 1985.

The laws in Virginia have similar origins to those in Alabama regarding white supremacy and voting rights.

Currently, many of the debated regarding felon disenfranchisement are based on assumptions. They are concerned with how a person’s status, identity, or past behavior would affect their vote. Not allowing someone to vote on these accounts violate the First Amendment.

Let’s go back to the life-sentence piece. Laws that prevent prisoners from voting “imprison our democracy” (New York Times). In order to reduce recidivism rates, or the re-entry of convicts into the prison system, we need to let them have choices and the feeling of freedom. Without a complete restoration of rights, felons will never truly be free.

Ashley Luhtjarv is a senior at Conant High School.