Before I was sentenced to 30 years in prison for possessing and growing marijuana, I was very politically active. I was so involved in the political process that I was elected as a state representative in the 2012 presidential election. This was after my arrest, but before my conviction, so I still have the right to vote.
While in prison, I was stripped of my right to vote, and I still can’t vote while on parole. Once I complete my parole, I can go through the cumbersome process of filing a petition to have my voting rights restored.
When it comes to felon voting, rules vary by state. The vast majority of states do not allow you to vote in prison. Maine and Vermont are the exceptions.
I am very interested in this topic, after studying The History Behind National Voting Laws For felons, most states still accept voting restrictions on criminals.
While our society is evolving, it is still permissible to discriminate against felons because they believe their opinions don’t matter or are somehow dangerous to the electoral process even after serving their sentence.
This blog post will cover:
- Why prisoners should be allowed to vote
- why prisoners can’t vote
- Can I vote after getting out of prison?
Why prisoners should be allowed to vote
The idea of prisoners voting may seem crazy, but it’s actually many constitutional virtues. Denying prisoners the right to vote violates an ideal that was so important to our founders—the concept of self-government.
Since 1970, the War on Drugs has swelled the prison population and caused tens of millions of felons to live inside and outside America’s prison walls. These people experience the scary world of the criminal justice system and the prison system in ways that most citizens don’t understand, and the best way to address these issues is to involve prisoners and felons in political debates.
When our society tells prisoners and felons that they cannot vote, they are saying that prisoners are not citizens of this country. A long time ago, there was a concept of “citizen death”, which means that once a crime is committed, all rights will be deprived once it is imprisoned.
That has changed in recent decades thanks to the Supreme Court. Prisoners have the right to freedom of religion and speech, and the court has also ruled that deprivation of citizenship cannot be punished for crimes.
As Justice Earl Warren wrote in the 1958 case Tropp v Dulles: “Citizenship is not a right voided by wrongdoing.”
Currently, more than 2 million people are incarcerated in prisons and detention centers across the United States. And, as Corey Brettschneider, a professor of political science at Brown University, points out, disempowering prisoners creates a class of people who are still bound by American law but who have no say in how they are governed. It is essentially a tax without representation.
Not allowing prisoners to vote also created a caste system. In states where most prisoners cannot vote, they are still counted in the population. This determines a state’s number of delegates and presidential electoral votes. The NAACP called this “prison-based gerrymandering,” much like the infamous three-fifths clause in the Constitution.
Critics say that if prisoners are allowed to vote, they are, in effect, letting prisoners run shelters. However, voting by prisoners not only allows them to help themselves, but also allows the prison system itself to help itself.
Prisoners know more than anyone about issues such as prisoner abuse, inhumane living conditions, overcrowding, solitary confinement, and substandard health care. Under our current system, it will take years of litigation to end this abuse.
If prisoners could vote, these issues could be resolved much faster and at a much lower cost.
why prisoners can’t vote
Now, it is still widely believed that prisoners should not have the right to vote. To be honest, this question hasn’t really been discussed yet. While views on voting rights for felons are starting to change, no one is discussing people being able to vote while incarcerated.
Many people object to this idea because the purpose of prisons is to impose punishment, but this is a narrow view and very short-sighted. Imprisonment is punishment. No need to add anything else. There is nothing worse than losing your freedom, seeing friends and family, and earning a living. No further action is necessary.
Ultimately, the argument against prisoner voting is this: If you’re not willing to obey the law, then you shouldn’t make the law for everyone else, and that’s what you do when you vote.
What if the laws you break are terrible laws? With drug laws imprisoning millions, should people with addiction problems not be able to participate in the voting process? I was put in jail because I had a dozen marijuana plants in the house I lived in. The prosecutor didn’t like my plea and refused to take his deal. Does this mean I can never vote?
Can I vote after getting out of prison?
Voting law for felons after they get out of prison varies by statewith rules ranging from automatic reinstatement to lifetime bans based on the offense committed.
The exact number of convicted felons in the country is difficult to determine. a studyA survey led by Sarah KS Shannon, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Georgia, estimated that in 2010 about 8 percent of U.S. adults had a felony record.
Excluding so many people from the democratic process. Many times they get banned for a gross mistake or a personal choice that doesn’t comply with state law, as I did.
At what point have felons paid their social debt? Why can’t they be considered “normal” citizens again after serving their sentences? Do you think felons should have the right to vote?
Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Felon Voting Rights By State Can Felons Vote? Why Prisoners Deserve The Right To Vote There are Good Reasons For Felons To Lose The Right to Vote The Growth, Scope, and Spatial Distribution of People With Felony Records in the United States, 1948–2010