America's New Disenfranchised

In a country where we pride ourselves for our right to vote, millions of citizens are can't because of anti-felon laws.

 In 1971, the 26th amendment to the United States Constitution lowered the required voting age to eighteen. This was the most recent change to the voting rules, and one after pivotal amendments in African American and women’s suffrage, finally rendering the right to vote upon all adults in the United States.

However, a major portion of the population of the United States of America still goes without voting rights, despite being adults. In America today, there still exists a group that must undergo taxation without representation. That group is America’s felons. 

Before I demonstrate exactly what felons have to go through in terms of disenfranchisement, it is first necessary to understand how they became felons in the first place. In the United States, a felony is a crime with a maximum sentence longer than one year; for example, theft of over $300 is a felony in our state.  This means that while many of us see felonies to be truly outrageous crimes such as murder, many tamer crimes also qualify to make their criminals into felons. While obviously these crimes are wrong, they are not necessarily committed by hardened criminals.

It is also necessary to understand the sheer scope of who has been labeled a felon in this country, specifically in terms of communities. According to the American Civil Liberty Union, there are currently 5.3 disenfranchised felons in America. Going by the figures of the U.S. Census Bureau, that would be 1.7 percent of all Americans, or slightly larger than the population of Minnesota. To put this in terms of a city many of us feel some connection to, according to The Guardian almost 80 percent of African American men in Chicago are felons. 

Once one understands how many United States citizens have been labeled as felons, it becomes easier to understand the issue of felon disenfranchisement.  While in our state of Illinois voting laws are somewhat progressive, those in prison are still unable to vote. However, in more draconian states, only those on probation can vote. Nineteen states allow felons to only vote upon the completion of a sentence. In eight even stricter states, only some felons can ever vote. In three states felons lose civil and voting rights for life.

In Florida, this ban was used to disenfranchise African Americans from voting after being freed from slavery; it’s worked since then, as one in three African American men in Florida have lost the right to vote because of the ban. 

These laws are simply unacceptable. The very system of democracy is based upon the value that all people deserve the right to vote in order to have laws that truly reflect the will of the majority. While our original Constitution did not fully respect these values, as it disenfranchised women and African Americans, over time we as a country became enlightened enough to understand that all adults have a right to democracy. However, in any case where we exclude citizens of our country from democracy, we fail to grant rational adults power over the legislation that will affect their lives in the future. We force them to undergo taxation without representation.

In addition, when we ignore a major voice of society, those who have made poor decisions in the past, and not what we would consider to be serious crimes, to become labeled as felons, we lose an important voice in the democratic process, which thrives when all viewpoints and ideologies have representing in choosing our future leaders.

It is important that we as a people come together to end the practice of denying the essential participation in democracy to those who have made poor choices in the past, and stand for the right for all of us to vote.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bob Levi June 16, 2011 at 01:40 PM
I'm guessing this article was written as satire by young Mr. Gordon. (BTW - I think the word "million" was missing after the 5.3 figure in the article's fourth paragraph.) Let's assume the author was serious. Where does a citizen's right stop? Perhaps felons not having the voting rights is a moot point. What percent of the estimated 5.3 million felons have ever voted and even care about voting? I'll bet it's less than the general population. Convicted felons now have at their disposal in prisons, fully-equipped gyms, TV access, and other amenities. Many have found that it's better to reside in jail than outside because it's an easier life in prison that in the real world. Perhaps the position taken by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizonia might be a good one. I'll be his recidivism rate is among the lowest in the country. I personally believe that a felon's rights should stop once they enter prison and that should include their right to vote.
Arielle Zionts June 18, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Alex, this is an important topic that many people are not aware of so I'm glad you wrote about it. Also, I had no idea what defined being a felon. And the statistic that there are more felons in the USA than citizens of MN is crazy! I personally don't understand the point of taking away a person's right to vote unless their crime had to do with treason or harming our country as a whole. Bob, go ahead and disagree with Alex's points; go ahead and add constructive critisism. But don't write an offesnive and condescending comment like "I'm guessing this article was written as satire by young Mr. Gordon". As to your point about your guess that felons voted less than the average citizen before they were felons, I don't see how this is relevant. Many citizens don't vote, but we still don't take away their voting right. Lastly, I would like to say, as with all social issues, we need to look at the root cause of the problem. Why are there so many felons in the USA? Why are certain racial/ethnic/income groups more prone to committing a felony? How can we reduce these rates?
Alex Gordon July 06, 2011 at 03:39 AM
Thank you for your dedication to reading the writings of local writers, Mr. Levi. While unfortunately this response is delayed, it would be "better late than never" to inform you that there are indeed 5.3 million disenfranchised felons as opposed to 5.3 disenfranchised felons in this country. My blogs have never been satire, and I hold no intent to produce any satire through this medium at the present time. While it is possible that felons are less likely to vote than the average American citizen regardless of their felon status, if a single felon out of these 5.3 million desires to vote, and cannot, this is a grievous error in the democracy you and I take for granted. In addition, if even a single felon finds prison more comfortable than the real world, highly unlikely as the separation from ones family and freedom is far more of a burden than gyms and television can remove, we should take such as a sad statement on our society in America, and the lack of economic opportunities our felons find themselves with, as opposed to a justification to further disenfranchise them.
Bob Levi July 06, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Arielle and Alex, I'm sorry if my comments sounded condescending. I just find it hard to believe that felons care about anything including their families, civil rights and the loss of voting privileges.. Try searching the Internet about studies on recidivism rate relating to criminal activity. It's a continuing problem. And studying the problem won't solve anything. One needs to propose sound and actionable solutions to any problem otherwise the problems will never go away.


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