It’s 2016 and we are in the midst of another election season. Of course elections happen every year but this is the Presidential election, the World Cup of elections. And this particular election is of particular importance to many, not because of the greatness of either of the two major’s potential nominees but for the exact opposite reason. People are highly motivated because of the dire consequences they feel will accompany the election of particular candidates. So while differing demographics are intent on seeing the candidate promising them the world in office there is at least one group guaranteed to be screwed over either way… felons.
Why is that? Because most incarcerated felons can’t vote. And this is not a secret that only a select few know, so why aren’t politicians, especially Democratic politicians screaming at the top of their lungs to undo this manifest injustice? Because if all else fails most politicians want a fallback position they can go to to impress their constituents and seem effective. And the easiest go to is to be “tough on crime” which has almost no downside because most criminals have been disenfranchised.
My question is why? Why have felons been counted in the districts they are incarcerated in but denied a voice in the election process? Why are felons denied access to the legislature, thereby being shut off from one-third of government? Of course the chorus from large amounts of the citizenry is that “they’re criminals who cares about their rights?” And that’s so often the viewpoint of individuals until they themselves or someone they care about becomes a victim of the system, rightly or wrongly.
Politicians have banked on public animosity toward criminals to get away with the massive disenfranchisement of so many American citizens. But the fact remains that there is no legitimate reason to disenfranchise felons during or after their incarceration. The Supreme Court has definitively stated that prisoners retain their rights that are not incompatible with confinement. For example, the Supreme Court has held that the first amendment still applies to prisoners to the extent that they do not infringe on legitimate penological interests. And it is clear that denying suffrage to men and women who are confined in prison has no legitimate cause.
A brief look at the history of this country makes it clear why this practice should long ago have been completely abolished. The repeated attempts throughout this country’s history to stop blacks from voting should be among the foremost reasons to completely end this mass disenfranchisement when you look at the alarming numbers of black men and women who find themselves in the unyielding grip of the government. The party that claims to champion the rights of black Americans should be screaming from the rooftops at every opportunity the necessity to end this inequitable practice.
The selective enforcement of law becomes a tool that can cause incalculable damage not only to the individuals themselves and their families but to entire communities. And even though non-black Americans are also disenfranchised when they are convicted in the 48 states that engage in this practice, this does not make this atrocious activity any less illegitimate. It only serves to highlight the importance of all Americans to stand in defense of universal suffrage regardless of race or ethnicity. The medieval horror that was civil death has no place in the United States in 2016 and it is time for a resurrection!
And to all that will try to claim it is something that cannot be done and that allowing prisoners to vote will somehow be too difficult, they fail to realize that there is already a blueprint or two. You see there are actually two states that allow their felons to vote even inside of prison: Maine and Vermont, which interestingly enough just happen to be the two whitest states in the Union. Maine according to the 2010 census is 94.4 % white, while Vermont, Bernie Sanders state is 94.3% white.
So why are we waiting to reenfranchise the masses of incarcerated individuals? It’s a nice start when Virginia’s governor Terry Mcauliffe restores voting rights to individuals who are no longer under criminal supervision, but it’s not enough when 2.2 million people (at least) are still condemned to voicelessness at the most vulnerable point in their lives. That’s why even though the Democratic party is taking half measures and the Republicans are trying to expand disenfranchisement there is one party devoted to the restoring citizens rights completely. This is a call for the immediate reenfranchisement of all citizens regardless of criminal status- Resurrect The Vote!