EDITORIAL: Felony disenfranchisement is unjust
More states should follow Florida’s lead
One of the less immediately tangible but heartening things that came out of Tuesday’s midterm elections was the fact that more than 60 percent of Floridians voted “yes” on Amendment 4, which will restore voting rights to citizens that have been convicted of felonies other than murder or sexual offenses after having served their sentences. That means that approximately 1.5 million voters will be added to Florida’s electorate, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of Florida’s adult population — something that may very well change the future political landscape of the state, considering its often very close voting outcomes.
In a number of states, felons simply regain their rights to vote after completing their sentence. But Florida was one of the few states where felons had to apply by petition to get that right back, or otherwise receive a pardon by the governor, which is obviously more difficult and burdensome than it may seem on the face. Other states where this is still the case are Kentucky, Iowa, Wyoming, Nevada and Delaware. In those states, where these felony disenfranchisement laws are extant, elected officials have a great amount of authority when it comes to the decision of restoring or withholding the rights of hundreds of thousands of felons to vote.
As most know, a more technical term for a prison or jail is a correctional institution. That is clearly because one of the main goals of a prison is to correct a perpetrator’s behavior and rehabilitate them. So it would seem to follow that if the point of a correctional institution is to rehabilitate those who have done society wrong, then by the time they are released from prison they should be at least functioning and reasonable members of their community — and in many cases this turns out to be true.
Considering the aforementioned, it is puzzling that, according to a Sentencing Project report, it is estimated that 6.1 million Americans have been barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws as of 2016. And unsurprisingly these laws disproportionately affect people of color — specifically Black people. In Florida, for example, more than 20 percent of otherwise eligible Black voters were unable to cast a ballot before the ratification of Amendment 4.
It seems felony disenfranchisement laws are simply another way for people to suppress voting rights and make things easier for their party when it comes to elections. Measures taken to make voting harder for people have been prominent since before the Fifteenth Amendment, which was put into place to protect people of color from being disenfranchised, and continue to this day. Such measures include cuts to early voting, certain voter identification laws and purges of voter rolls.
When it comes to Americans’ fundamental constitutional right to vote, some in the upper echelons of our government seem to treat it as if it were a game, seeking not justice but rather mere political accomplishment. It is not far-fetched to think that many laws making it harder for people to vote, such as the aforementioned felony disenfranchisement laws, are only in place to ensure a better chance for a certain political outcome. If we are to move toward a more perfect and just society, these laws must be abolished or at the very least significantly reformed. One day, all citizens who have a fundamental right to participate fully in the democratic process will be able to do so, but it will not happen until the electorate in more states like Florida come to their senses.
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