Voting is speech. It grants citizens of a democracy a powerful voice to elect the officials who make decisions that have a strong impact on their lives, such as jobs, health care, social security, taxes, and education. Without the right to vote, American democracy descends into tyranny, where government selects officials and makes decisions on issues pertinent to the American people without the consent of those governed. Unfortunately, this tyranny exists today where voting restrictions strip millions of a certain populace from having a say on those political decisions: Felons.
In the most recent election, 6.1 million people couldn’t participate in electing their own representatives, senators, and president due to felony convictions. It should be noted that 25 percent of that population couldn’t vote since they’re still serving their prison sentence. But why can’t felons with previous felony convictions vote? The arguments typically fall into these troubling categories: 1) If you break the law, you demonstrate that you don’t have the moral compass to elect officials. 2) If you commit a crime, you commit a crime against an entire society; thus, you deserve to lose your voting rights.
Using obedience to the law as a barometer for one’s moral compass baffles me. It invokes moral positivism where the laws of the state is the source of morality; thus, if an action is legal, then it is morally good or indifferent. However, if that logic held, then abortion, hate speech, pornography, adultery, and slavery would have been outlawed since the existence of government. A representative democracy does not glorify a certain class based on moral or political competence; instead, it grants rights to all people, even the most imperfect of society.
The second argument treats the seizure of voting rights as a means of punishment. To clarify, the purpose of punishment by the state is to uphold public safety. When one commits a crime, he or she is removed from society for a proportional period of time to the crime committed where the offender can’t cause further harm. Upon release, the offender can reenter society knowing that punishment was served. However, taking away voting rights further entraps the convicted in political prison, depriving citizens of the autonomy of having a say in the decisions that affect them at illusion of public safety. Keeping sex offenders away from schools upholds public safe. Restricting weapons from violent offenders keeps the public safe. Taking away voting rights accomplishes neither.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily Whig.
Photo Credit: Xersti