Throughout the course of my last semester, I researched and wrote about mass incarceration and the varying degrees of institutional racism in place that contribute to it. My final paper for my senior seminar class was focused around unlimited prosecutorial discretion and its contributions to the tragedy of mass incarceration. Recently, I have began researching other ways our country continues to target people of color and rope them into the criminal justice systems, and the effects of this.
Felons should be able to vote. They should be able to vote both in and out of prison. I will elaborate more on this later, but for now I would like to reflect upon some polls I conducted on Twitter and what I think about the results. My sample was small; some polls reached fewer than 50 people, others just over 100. I would love to do research with a larger group at some point, but for now this is what I am working with.
My first question was, “Should felons be able to vote while in prison?” This poll was answered by 130 people, with 54% voting yes and 47% voting now. I was actually thrilled and surprised to learn that over half of my followers who responded believed this. I see no reason why prisoners (at the very least nonviolent offenders) should not have a say in policies that not only affect them, but their families while serving time. Maine and Vermont are the only states allowing their prisoners to vote.
Since when did making a mistake mean one is less intelligent or incapable of participating in the most basic and fundamental process in this country? We can discuss restrictions on voting in prison. I would be open to the discussion that certain crimes would warrant a prisoner incapable of casting a ballot (i.e. rape, murder, hate crimes), but the majority of our prison population is made up of nonviolent offenders. Why aren’t they voting?
Next, I asked, “Should felons be able to vote after serving their time?” Duh. Of course they should be able to vote after serving their time. This question gathered 132 votes, with 89% of my followers voting yes, 11% voting no. To me, this is common sense. If one has served his or her time and paid a debt to society, I see no reason to not allow this person to vote.
However, in many states there are hoops felons must jump through after incarceration to be able to vote again. Several states require all fees and fines be paid off before allowing felons to vote again. Nine states require felons to have their right to vote reinstated by a court or governor. 28 states do not allow felons the right to vote until probation or parole is completed, which could be years for many. In Florida, Iowa, and Virginia felons can never vote again.
One can argue for days about the different types of crimes and if particularly gruesome crimes should prevent felons from being able to vote again. However, when the percentage of these criminals are predominantly nonviolent, I see no reason for them to not be voting. America is a country that was supposedly founded upon freedom and the right to have a voice in government, yet we have silenced millions of people and considered them not human because they committed a crime or made a mistake.
My third question asked, “If prisoners were able to vote in prison, how should their votes be collected?” This question attracted 68 responses, with 29% voting for absentee ballots being sent by mail, and 71% voting for an actual polling place be introduced in prisons. Due to cost effectiveness and ease of implementation, I would say absentee ballots would most likely be the easiest way to have prisoners vote. I am open to either option, I simply would like to see this be made a reality.
Fourth, I asked, “If felons were able to vote after serving time, should they be required to pay a fine or complete a test in order to do so?” 65 answered this question, with 68% voting no and 32% voting yes. Because serving years in prison without any dignity or rights isn’t enough payment to society right? There are states that require all fees and fines be paid off before voting, although I am unsure about a test. If this is a requirement, it is a ridiculous one put in place to suppress voters.
Finally, I asked my followers, “Should states be able to decide whether or not felons can vote?” To be honest, I am not so sure how I feel about giving states this power, but out of 44 votes, 55% votes yes, and 45% voted no. I say this because it seems unfair to allow certain people in the country to vote, while others cannot. Everyone should be able to vote in America. This should definitely be something decided at the federal level.
Like I said before, I would love to research this with a larger sample and gather more information about this topic. If you consider yourself a patriot, then you should believe we all have a right to vote. That means felons should be able to vote too. As always, I am open to feedback and thoughts. I was interested in my findings and I hope you were too.
This entry was written by Courtney Dalton.