By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
With all the talk about how much is at stake in the contentious presidential election, millions of Americans are disenfranchised from the process altogether and couldn’t exercise their voice in this democracy if they wanted to.
They are blatantly excluded from the process and we rarely engage in serious conversation about it. In 48 out of 50 students in America, convicted felons are temporarily or permanently banned from voting. If you think that doesn’t concern you – think again.
Increasingly, the respect and attention doled out to citizen concerns is dependent on clout at the polls. The National Rifle Association is a force primarily because they influence whether candidates for public office win or lose elections.
If those frustrated with corruption and bigotry in the largely privatized U.S. Penal system want justice, they will have to pose a far greater threat for politicians who choose to ignore them. And with a disproportionate number of African Americans among those felons, imagine the influence lost by that entire demographic.
It goes like this, some states restore voting rights to those convicted of felonies after their prison term is up. Others restore voting rights only after parole or probation has been completed. Still others have instituted a waiting period after the sentence is completed.
Three states strip convicted felons of the right to vote permanently. They are Florida, Iowa and Kentucky.
But the trend has been the opposite, to expand voting rights of those who have spent time in prison after felony convictions. In recent years, more than two dozen states have passed laws designed to allow those who have served their time to return to the voting booth.
While the case for voting rights may seem like a no-brainer, there are many who vehemently oppose broadening accommodations. While you have your firm position, here is what the two sides argue, according to the National Conference of State Legislature:
The Case for Allowing Convicted Felons to Vote
Advocates for allowing convicted felons to vote after they have successfully and completely gone through the judicial process and served their terms say taking part in elections contributes to the rehabilitation process.
“The right to vote helps to foster a sense of community for those who feel disconnected and unfairly excluded from civic participation,” says Project Vote. Allowing felons to vote can, it says, “reduce the harmful impact on low-income and minority communities where a disproportionately high number of individuals are disenfranchised due to felony convictions.”
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has been working to change the state’s ban on felons voting, said: “One mistake in life shouldn’t permanently block a citizen’s access to the ballot box. The right to vote is among the most important rights we have. It is something for which people in other countries have lost their lives.”
The Case Against Allowing Convicted Felons to Vote
The conservative Center for Equal Opportunity opposes the expansion of voting rights to those convicted of felonies.
“You don’t have a right to make the laws if you aren’t willing to follow them yourself,” the group says on its website. “To participate in self-government, you must be willing to accept the rule of law. We don’t let everyone vote – not children, not noncitizens, not the mentally incompetent. There are certain minimum and objective standards of trustworthiness, loyalty, and responsibility, and those who have committed serious crimes against their fellow citizens don’t meet those standard.”
Number of Voters Affected
There are about 6 million Americans who are now banned from voting because of the laws in states that strip voting rights from those convicted of felony crimes, according to the Sentencing Project. That number has been rising in tangent with the growth in the American prison population.
The Sentencing Project analysis has concluded that one of every 13 African-American adults cannot vote. Across all races, 5.3 million Americans, or about 1 in 40, could not vote in the 2008 election because of a felony conviction. That included more than 2 million African-American men and women.
Paul added, “If I told you that in America almost 1 million Black Americans were forever forbidden from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago, but you would be wrong,” Paul told The Washington Times in 2013.
This may be enough to eventually offset racist gerrymandering and laws throughout the nation to discourage Blacks and minorities. This needs to be a cause that we pursue as a people because more than the affected felons stand to benefit. This could be a game changer.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].