Felons and Voting
There are millions of disenfranchised felons and they are the last group of American citizens that are still being denied the right to vote. There are groups today that argue that the disenfranchisement of anyone is unconstitutional, but a person who commits a felony obviously cannot abide by the laws of this country and should not have the right to decide who makes the laws for the rest of its citizens. However there are felons that will do their time, whether in prison, on parole, or probation, and return to be productive law abiding citizens which should be able to have a voice in who governs them and policies that will affect them. The way that felons may vote is a concern, for some fear that they would vote for people and policies that would change laws to be more lenient towards criminals, instead of voting with the best interests of all citizens in mind. Enfranchising all felons should not happen but state laws disenfranchising felons need to be more unified and consistent nationwide.
There were 5.8 million Americans ineligible to vote in the 2012 because of disenfranchisement; about 1 out of 40 adult felons are denied the right to vote. (Uggen et al. 1) American felons do not simply give up their right to vote upon conviction, the basis of these laws came from the Greek policy of civil death for offenders of certain crimes. (Kleinig and Murtagh 218) The Supreme Court, in Tropp v. Dulles stated that “citizenship is not lost every time a duty of citizenship is shirked. And the deprivation of citizenship is not a weapon that the government may use to express its displeasure at a citizens conduct, however reprehensible that conduct may be”. (qtd. in Zeigler 213) And since the states have the right to decide the laws concerning voters and elections themselves disenfranchisement laws differ from one to another. Two people residing in different states with the exact same felony can have different levels of disenfranchisement forced upon them, which is a violation of these citizens’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment. (Zeigler 213) Felons or not, citizens should not be denied this right in one state and have a neighboring state not deny at all when under the exact same conditions.
Felons are not the only citizens whose rights are in question; all citizens should have the right to choose if they want certain felons voting in their communities and states. Altman states that: It is true that the range of permissible policies is far from unlimited, but the same is true of permissible electoral systems. And just as with the case of electoral systems, it would be a mistake to demarcate the range of what is permissible without taking into account the right of citizens to define democratically their own state’s political identity. (Altman 264) That being said citizen’s rights need to be considered in conjunction with felons rights when policies are eliminated or altered. Although, to create nationwide more unified disenfranchisement laws, further limitation of a state’s individual right to govern their electoral systems will have to occur.
Citizens fear policy changes that might occur if felons and convicts are enfranchised. Ewald refers to the Alabama decision of Washington v. State, the need to protect the “purity of the ballot box” is a reason that convicts are disenfranchised. (Ewald 110) Felons and convicts have broken laws designed for peace and safety of all; citizens cannot be blamed entirely for not trusting them. Convicts may not care about its community’s concerns and citizens would prefer to have all voters take into account everyone’s needs not just the individual’s. (Ewald 113) Law makers worry how enfranchised felons can change law enforcement because “of the possible effects on the elected members of the criminal justice system” and the risk of creating an anti-law establishment. (Ewald 118) However Altman points out that “…felons are ethnically,...
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