Denying convicted felons the right to vote sets a dangerous precedent

Amber Kakkar, Staff Writer

 In 1921, the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution, providing women access to the fundamental right of American citizenship: the right to vote. The main highlight of being an American citizen, according to Susan B. Anthony, is the right to vote. 

The importance of voting cannot be stressed enough, as it demonstrates the freedom to make your own decisions; and the concept of democracy, as citizens are given a voice in helping decide how the country is run. 

“America was built on the ideas of freedom and rights for all citizens. If a convicted felon is a U.S. citizen, it is his or her right to vote for the people who run our country. Some might say that their values aren’t in the right place, which may be true, but that doesn’t justify taking away one’s rights,” said freshman Kevin Taylor. “If America makes exceptions to the constitution, then it will no longer be the great country it is.” 

By taking the right to vote away from these American citizens who went down the wrong path, they’re being completely cut off from society, disengaged from the outside world, and outright dehumanized. 

“I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people because once you start chipping away… you’re running down a slippery slope,” said Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. 

The government in this scenario is the strong, stern parent putting a grip on their child, the felon. Sanders is saying that he would like to give the child a second chance to learn from their mistakes, not to ban them from civilization. By giving them the right to vote while incarcerated, they are being warmed to the idea of being reintegrated back into society. 

“I do believe that even if they are in jail paying their price to society, that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy,” said Sanders.

In Sanders’ home state of Vermont, a felon who commits murder is still allowed to vote while incarcerated, while a felon in Mississippi who commits perjury gets their voting rights taken away for life. Previously in New York, felons were allowed to vote upon release from jail while completing probation or finishing parole. 

Just recently, on April 18, 2018, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order stating that those on parole are allowed to vote. This means that Governor Cuomo’s office has the authority to give approval to all of those entering the community in the form of issuing a partial executive pardon restoring their ability to vote, to go along with being reinstated into normal society upon release. 

“This country was built upon the idea that everyone gets a voice in their government, that everyone gets a vote,” said freshman Natalie Parker. “We cannot truly call this country free or our government representative of its entire populace when not everyone has a say in the elections of people who are supposed to serve them.” 

New York is taking a step in the right direction by giving felons an earlier pardon, whereas states such as Mississippi are banning them and cutting them off from the society in which they live. It is almost as if they are no longer part of the state, regardless of the fact that they have repented for their crimes and deserve equal rights as non-felons. The laws beyond borders are different worlds, but they also need to be just and fair. 

“Convicted felons should be able to vote simply due to the fact that they are people. Our democracy ensures that every person, once they reach voting age, is entitled to voice their opinion. They do not truly have their freedoms and may be more inclined to become unstable, as this lack of rights would make them feel and appear less human,” said freshman Hannah Brooks. 

The law of excluding convicted felons from voting originated from African Americans in the Civil War Period. In the post-Reconstruction era, black disenfranchisement was widely accepted and enforced. There were laws such as the grandfather clause, poll taxes, and literacy tests which prevented people of color from voting. 

Although slavery was abolished in 1865, the means of racial inequality continued well throughout the 20th century. This continued to the point where criminal justice served as a means of racial control. Criminal laws were used to denounce Civil Rights protestors as “law breakers;” they often faced incarceration, police brutality, and arrest. 

Today, more than 70 percent of prisoners are non-white. Latino men have a one in six chance of being arrested, African-American men have more than a one in three chance, and white men have a one in 23 chance. Mass incarceration and disenfranchisement have a disparate racial impact. As Americans, it is our duty to recognize that denying the right to vote to those who have done no wrong and are only imprisoned due to the color of their skin is completely unfair, unjust, and unconstitutional. For those who have done something wrong, it is unfair to them to close them off from being a part of their country. 

As a society, we ought to provide felons with a second chance, as opposed to sending them further into the darkness. Granting suffrage to felons upon release is an important first step, but there is much more work to be done to ensure that the right to vote is given to all Americans.