Monday, May 5, 2014

Felons and the Right to Vote

I admit I never thought much about felons' voting rights until the past few years. I was unaware that they lost the right to vote. If you'd asked me whether felons in prison should be able to vote while incarcerated, I probably would have said no. I also didn't realize that the rules on voting were decided at the state level.

Across the country, the range of voting rights for felons varies incredibly, pointing once again to our need for more consistent rules about the right to vote:

  • Vermont and Maine allow felons to vote, even while incarcerated.
  • Thirteen states allow people to vote once they are released, whether on probation or not.
  • Minnesota and 23 other states don't allow voting until probation and parole are finished, but once those are complete, voting is allowed.
  • Eleven states, including Florida and Iowa (!) don't restore voting rights at all unless the person asks for their rights to be restored, and those requests are, in some states, infrequently granted. (source).
I'm with Vermont and Maine, or at least the 13 states that allow voting as soon as you're out of prison. What is the point of keeping people from voting? And particularly, what is the point of making them beg to have their rights returned to them, and even more so, making the hoop they have to jump through extremely high?

Whose interest is served by creating a permanent underclass?

Remember, those felons count as part of the population when it comes time to apportion legislative seats. Urban men incarcerated in rural prisons boost those counties' populations, but they can't vote. Sounds a bit like the U.S. Constitution's three-fifths rule that was used to count enslaved men, doesn't it?

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