Should Felons Get a Vote?

In most states, a convicted felon loses the right to vote—at least while they’re in prison. Four states permanently take away this right (Yes, Florida is in the group of four) but, Maine and Vermont always let felons vote—even while incarcerated. Interesting information, but if you’re not a felon, and you don’t know any, why does it matter?

To start, felon disenfranchisement (when felons can’t vote) can impact elections. In Florida, the most highly disenfranchised state, more than 10% of the voting-age population can’t vote. That’s a lot of votes; it’s more than enough to have changed the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election!

So why not just let felons vote?

If only it were simple. When someone is convicted of a felony, they automatically lose rights afforded to free citizens. People who agree with disenfranchisement say voting should be treated like the other rights felons lose. If someone is found guilty of a violent crime, they’re not allowed to own agun. Make sense? If someone breaks the law, shouldn’t they be banned from using their vote to make the law?

But what about second chances?

Life after prison is often tough, and ex-convicts aren’t always given second chances. Some say a felon who has paid their debt should be given a second chance and their full rights restored—including the right to vote. The opponents say, “no way.” It really gets sticky when you add in this fact: stripping felons of the right to vote impacts African Americans more than any other group. Many believe it’s not only undemocratic, but racially motivated as well.

Is there a middle ground?

Yes, and most current state laws sit somewhere in the middle. They make it possible for felons to earn back voting rights. The question then becomes, “When should the right to vote be restored?” Should voting rights be restored automatically at the end of a prison sentence? Should a person who’s committed a crime have to demonstrate to society that they can follow the law before being allowed to vote again?

What do you think?