Should People with Felony Convictions Be Permitted to Vote while in Prison?
General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Chris Uggen, PhD, Ryan Larson, Sarah Shannon, PhD, and Arleth Pulido-Nava, writing for the Sentencing Project, a group that tracks and works against the disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions, in an Oct. 30, 2020 report, “Locked Out 2020: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights Due to a Felony Conviction,” available at sentencingproject.com, stated:
“Maine and Vermont remain the only states that allow persons in prison to vote (as well as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico). In July 2020, the Washington, D.C. Council passed an emergency bill that authorized all incarcerated residents with a felony conviction to vote in the November 2020 election. The Council intends to make the change permanent.”Oct. 30, 2020
Joel Castón, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7F Commissioner in Washington, DC, who is currently incarcerated, in a July 26, 2021 article, “A Seat at the Table,” available at inquest.com, stated:
“Whenever we enfranchise the incarcerated population or someone who was once justice-involved, once that individual is fully enfranchised then they can obtain true citizenship…
If you have an incarcerated population who are functioning in the democratic process, my belief is that that same mindset will follow individuals once they transition back to society. We know the results we receive when we’re always doing the same thing. If we want something different, or get different results, we have to do something different. Enfranchisement of one of us proves that you can enfranchise all of us. Allowing one of us to have a seat proves that you can allow all of us to have a seat. We were once on the wrong side of things, now we’re on the right side of things. We were once a part of the problem, now we want to be a part of the solution.”July 26, 2021
Bernie Sanders, US Senator (I-VT), as quoted in an Apr. 22, 2019 article, “Sanders Says the Right to Vote Should Be Extended ‘Even for Terrible People’ Like the Boston Marathon Bomber,” available at cnn.com, stated at a CNN town hall:
“This is a democracy and we have got to expand that democracy, and I believe every single person does have the right to vote. Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away and you say, ‘Well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote. Well, that person did that. Not going to let that person vote,’ you’re running down a slippery slope. So I believe people commit crimes and they paid the price and they have the right to vote. I believe even if they’re in jail they’re paying their price to society but that should not take away their inherent American right to participate in our democracy.”Apr. 22, 2019
Jamelle Bouie, New York Times columnist, in an Apr. 11, 2019 article, “Tell Me again Why Prisoners Can’t Vote,” available at nytimes.com, stated:
‘Americans may see it as common sense that you lose your right to vote when you’re imprisoned, but in many democracies prisoners retain the right to vote. When that right is revoked, it’s only for particular crimes (in Germany, it’s for ‘targeting’ the ‘democratic order’), and often there is a good deal of judicial discretion. Mandatory disenfranchisement is unusual, and permanent disenfranchisement is even rarer…
Prisoners are neither more nor less rational than anyone else who is allowed to vote.
If anything, the political system needs the perspectives of prisoners, with their intimate experience of this otherwise opaque part of the state. Their votes might force lawmakers to take a closer look at what happens in these institutions before they spiral into unaccountable violence and abuse.
There are practical benefits as well. Racial disparities in criminal enforcement and sentencing means disenfranchisement falls heaviest on black communities. This is not just a direct blow to prisoners’ electoral power; it also ripples outward, depressing political participation among their friends, families and acquaintances. On the other end, suffrage in prison may help incarcerated people maintain valuable links to their communities, which might smooth the transition process once they’re released.”Apr. 11, 2019
Andrew Novak, PhD, JD, MSc, Assistant Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society, in an Apr. 24, 2019 article, “Bernie Sanders Got It Right on CNN: Felons Ought to Be Allowed to Vote,” available at thedailybeast.com, stated:
“The most important consequence of allowing prisoners to vote is that it would remove the incentives for ‘prison gerrymandering.’ In most U.S. states, prisoners are counted by the census based on where they are incarcerated, not where they are registered to vote. Because most large prisons are in sparsely populated rural areas, prison complexes have an important effect on gerrymandering.
Many prisoners are racial minorities or people who live in urban areas, which means these places lose voting population, while more conservative areas gain nonvoting population. This advantages Republican congressmen in places like upstate New York, who benefit from inflated populations for redistricting purposes, but have nothing to fear at election time. Prisoner disenfranchisement therefore contributes to a structural disparity that causes Congress and state legislatures to be more conservative than the public at large.”Apr. 24, 2019
Chandra Bozelko, author and former felon, in an Apr. 11, 2019 article, “Bernie Sanders Wants Incarcerated People to Vote. Here’s Why He’s Right.,” available at nbcnews.com, stated:
“[A]llowing people in prison to vote and enter national political conversations might be the best way to eliminate the enduring, expensive problem of dangerous prison conditions. That inmates have so little political power has allowed them to be victimized and killed in poorly managed facilities with virtually no political repercussions for those who have designed, funded and essentially administered the current system.
But if candidates have to vie for prisoners’ votes will humanize them, they’ll also have [to] figure them into lawmaking considerations…
Perhaps no one lives more subject to the laws of the United States than the American prisoner, and yet he or she has no say in them. Allowing him or her to vote is how we end the dehumanization of incarcerated citizens. Not only will investment of rights resurrect them civilly, prisoners’ participation will ultimately affect policy for the better and make our prisons more humane.”Apr. 11, 2019
Mandeep Dhami, PhD, Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology, stated in her Dec. 2005 article “Prisoner Disenfranchisement Policy: A Threat to Democracy?,” published in the Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy:
“[T]he argument that allowing prisoners to vote would be costly and impractical is ethically unjustifiable. Similarly, the fact that prisoners lose many freedoms does not imply they should lose all their civil rights.
Denying prisoners the right to vote is likely to undermine respect for the rule of law since citizens who cannot participate in the making of laws will probably not recognize their authority. Allowing prisoners to vote, by contrast, may strengthen their social ties and commitment to the common good, thus promoting legally responsible participation in civil society.”Dec. 2005
Jeff Manza, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University and Christopher Uggen, PhD, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, stated in their 2006 book Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy:
“Prison administrators have a responsibility to maintain a safe and orderly environment in prison, and they have a great discretion in determining which individual deprivations are necessary to meet these goals. But a series of court rulings has established that restrictions on fundamental rights must be justified, rather than imposed arbitrarily on inmates…. Where rights such as access to the courts or to free expression are not clearly part of the punishment or necessary for prison administration, they are generally retained by inmates… Allowing voting provides a costless way of allowing them to practice citizenship.”2006
Waverly Jones, the son of a murdered police officer, stated the following in a June 24, 2005 article by Michelle Chen titled “Felon Voting Rights Conflict Hits Federal Court,” published in The New Standard:
“Voting is not a privilege, it is a fundamental right in any society that desires to serve the interests of its people. And to take it away because you’ve committed a crime is unjust.
It [felons voting in prison] will allow them to organize themselves in prison…to vote what is in their best interest. And I think that that will improve the quality of participation in this type of electoral system.”June 24, 2005
The Editorial Page Staff of the Fredericksburg, Virginia, Free Lance-Star, in a Feb. 16, 2021 article, “”Editorial: Incarcerated Felons Shouldn’t Get to Vote,”” available at fredericksburg.com, stated:
“Felons should not be able to cancel out their victims’ votes before they’ve completed their sentences, shown some remorse for their crimes, and made whatever court-ordered restitution is required. This is only fair.
Inmates who are still in prison obviously have not done all of these things. In fact, giving felons voting rights while they are still incarcerated, and thus putting them on equal footing with law-abiding citizens, would be a slap in the face to the very communities their crimes dishonored.”Feb. 16, 2021
The Boston Herald, in an Apr. 24, 2019 editorial, “No, Bernie, Felons Should Not Vote,” available at bostonherald.com, stated:
“Apart from the shocking imagery of the wretched marathon bomber casting a vote, we must ask ourselves if citizens who have no respect for the laws of the land should have a hand in their authorship.
There is an assumption or at least an aspiration that the right to vote would be the happy providence of the moral and responsible, the sober-minded and the thoughtful. We do not let 7-year-olds pull the lever and we don’t (for the most part) allow non-citizens to participate in our democracy.
Do we want those convicted of treason casting votes from prison?
The answer is, of course, no.”Apr. 24, 2019
John Lott, Jr, PhD, Dean’s Visiting Professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton, in an Apr. 11, 2019 article, “Bernie Sanders is Wrong: Felons Shouldn’t Vote from Prison,” available at nationalreview.com, stated:
“If Democrats fight for and achieve felon enfranchisement, they can count on having an even more loyal voting bloc. It isn’t just state election results that could change. Prisons are often located in rural, low-population areas. The Louisiana State Penitentiary has 6,300 prisoners and is located in West Feliciana Parish, a county with only 12,888 non-prisoner adults. With 33 percent of potential voters easily located in one place, local candidates are going to spend a lot of time campaigning at the prison.
Then there is the moral side of the issue. Why is it in the interests of women that rapists should have a say in deciding who will win elections? Sexual offenders aren’t going to support women’s safety and health issues or education the way that other citizens will.”Apr. 11, 2019
F.H. Buckley, LLM, Foundation Professor at George Mason University School of Law, in an Apr. 24, 2019 article, “What Democrats Have Forgotten about Citizenship,” available at nypost.com, stated:
“If you are in prison, you’re subject to the worst punishment most states can inflict one anyone. Barring your voting rights is no greater burden and is justified if the prisoner has been found to be so unworthy as to merit prison time in the first place.
I don’t know what the best set of criminal laws might be, and I don’t know who my local prosecutor is. I don’t think I have voted in city elections about who should be my sheriff. I can’t vote wisely about that, so I don’t.
But I don’t think people in prison should even have the right to vote on things like that. I don’t think they would have the best interests of the community in mind. The criminal shouldn’t be able to vote for his prosecutor. We don’t need his advice on what’s a crime.”Apr. 24, 2019
The New York Daily News Editorial Board, in an Apr. 24, 2019 article, “Bar Bernie’s Felon-Voting Idea: Criminal Justice Reform Shouldn’t Extend to Giving the Ballot to the Currently Incarcerated,” available at nydailynews.com, stated:
“So, Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, should be able to weigh in on taxes and government spending as he serves out his 150+ year sentence? Or the Boston Marathon bombers?
Our belief in the right to vote is as strong as anyone’s. But losing rights available to the law-abiding is part of felon punishment. This is especially true for murder, where not only is an individual’s life lost, but so too a citizen’s ability to participate in democracy. A life and voter are taken — permanently.
…[W]hile locked up on a felony, sorry, you don’t get to vote.”Apr. 24, 2019
Toby Nixon, Washington State Representative (R-Kirkland), stated in the July 4, 2005 Associated Press article “Ex-felons Face Roadblocks in Regaining Voting Rights,” by Rachel La Corte:
“If somebody’s in jail, they don’t vote, and if someone’s not in jail they vote. It’s as simple as that.”July 4, 2005
Paul Cellucci, JD, former Governor of Massachusetts, stated in an Apr. 19, 1999 Boston Globe article titled “State Among Four To Allow Prisoner Voting,” by Jean McMillan:
“They certainly should not be voting while they are in prison. That’s for sure. If you go there to be punished, this should be part of the punishment.”Apr. 19, 1999
Jonathan Aitken, JD, a former Member of British Parliament and a convicted felon, stated in his article “Prisoners Don’t Care About Their Right To Vote,” published on Dec. 15, 2006 in the U.K. Telegraph:
“[P]rison is meant to be a punishment. A custodial sentence has always resulted in loss of freedom and loss of democratic rights for the duration of a prisoner’s sentence. Why change that? Is there any moral imperative for such a change?…
The main point of a prison sentence is to show the offender and society as a whole that criminal behaviour results in loss of freedom and most of the rights that freedom offers…
But whatever the circumstances in whatever the prison voting rights are bound to create tensions, dramas and probably excuses for inmate-to-inmate violence at General Election time.
Because some nations in Europe have given their prisoners voting rights, Britain should now do the same, is what the Eurojudges are really saying. Surely Britain’s MPs should exercise their constitutional right and reject the ECHR’s [European Court of Human Rights] advice.
Even if it would be the first time it happened that would be one ‘prison escape’ which majority Parliamentary and public opinion would really approve of.”Dec. 15, 2006
Roger Clegg, JD., President and General Counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity, stated in a Nov. 3, 2004 online debate on the website of Legal Affairs magazine:
“[I]t seems to me perfectly fine to say that all felons have shown at least enough untrustworthiness to lose their right to vote while in prison.
Once they are out, then states can make case-by-case distinctions between murderers, drug dealers, and the like.”Nov. 3, 2004