Last updated on: 8/6/2021 | Author: ProCon.org

Should People Who Have Completed Felony Sentences Be Allowed to Vote?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

German Lopez, Senior Correspondent for Vox.com, in a Sep. 18, 2020 article, “The State of Ex-Felons’ Voting Rights, Explained,” available at vox.com, stated:

“Preventing people with criminal records from voting in the US goes back to the colonial era and the concept of “civil death” — the notion that some bad actions effectively left a person dead in terms of civic engagement. But there’s also a uniquely American, racist twist to this story, rooted in Jim Crow.

Felony disenfranchisement laws were part of the push after the Civil War, particularly in the South, to limit civil rights gains following the end of slavery and ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th constitutional amendments protecting minority rights. This resistance also included the Jim Crow laws that legally enforced racial segregation, as well as other limits on Black voting power. Undoing all of this has been a decades-long project for civil rights activists.

For example, after the South lost the Civil War, state lawmakers in Florida enacted laws — the Black Codes — to constrain Black rights. They created crimes, such as disobedience and ‘disrespect to the employer,’ that could be enforced in a way that would target and criminalize Black people in particular.”

Sep. 18, 2020

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:

“–As of 2020, an estimated 5.17 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a figure that has declined by almost 15 percent since 2016, as states enacted new policies to curtail this practice. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, 5.85 million in 2010, and 6.11 million in 2016.

–One out of 44 adults – 2.27 percent of the total U.S. voting eligible population–is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.

–Individuals who have completed their sentences in the eleven states that disenfranchise at least some people post-sentence make up most (43 percent) of the entire disenfranchised population, totaling 2.23 million people.

–Rates of disenfranchisement vary dramatically by state due to broad variations in voting prohibitions. In three states – Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee – more than 8 percent of the adult population, one of every thirteen people, is disenfranchised.

–We estimate that nearly 900,000 Floridians who have completed their sentences remain disenfranchised, despite a 2018 ballot referendum that promised to restore their voting rights. Florida thus remains the nation’s disenfranchisement leader in absolute numbers, with over 1.1 million people currently banned from voting – often because they cannot afford to pay court-ordered monetary sanctions or because the state is not obligated to tell them the amount of their sanction.

–One in 16 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.7 times greater than that of non-African Americans. Over 6.2 percent of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.7 percent of the non-African American population.

–African American disenfranchisement rates vary significantly by state. In seven states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming – more than one in seven African Americans is disenfranchised, twice the national average for African Americans.

–Although data on ethnicity in correctional populations are still unevenly reported, we can conservatively estimate that over 560,000 Latinx Americans or over 2 percent of the voting eligible population are disenfranchised.

–Approximately 1.2 million women are disenfranchised, comprising over one-fifth of the total disenfranchised population.”

Oct. 30, 2020

PRO (yes)

Pro

Tarra Simmons, JD, Washington State Representative (D), who was formerly incarcerated for felony theft and drug crimes, as quoted by Quinn Scanlan in an Apr. 9, 2021 article, “Some States Work to Expand Voting Rights for People with Felony Convictions,” available at abcnews.go.com, stated:

“When you are told that you are not worthy of being a part of that collective decision making, it’s like another layer of stigma that you walk through the world with, and that internalized message that I am not worthy … that this community doesn’t want me here is what leads people to being isolated. In that isolation, people are more likely to relapse with their substance use disorder or commit a new crime because they’re not connected…

The years of time that people spend in prison is a sufficient deterrent, is a sufficient punishment. When we over punish people, when we saddle them with thousands of dollars of court fines and fees and we take away the right to vote and we tell them that they can’t get a job or a place to live — all of that is actually harming all of us because that’s creating more crime.”

Apr. 9, 2021

Pro

Amy Fettig, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, in an Oct 30, 2020 interview with Kristen O’Toole, “The Sentencing Project Takes on Felony Disenfranchisement,” available at squarespace.com, stated:

“We also know that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor restoring voting rights to people who have either completed their sentences, or are living in the community while on probation or parole. Those voices and that commitment to democracy should be heard and reflected in our laws and policies at the local and national level…

We believe that the bedrock of any democracy is the right to vote. Laws that exclude people from voting have destabilized communities and families in America for decades by denying them a voice in determining their futures.”

Oct 30, 2020

Pro

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

Pro

Kwame Akosah, JD, Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, stated the following in a Mar. 4, 2017 article “Restore Ex-Felons’ Voting Rights — It’s the Right Thing,” available on the Miami Herald website:

“Over the past two decades, states across the country have made significant progress scaling back archaic laws that collectively deny voting rights to millions of Americans with criminal convictions in their past. But Florida is not one of them: The state has a 150-year-old law that bans people from voting for life if they have a conviction.

Imagine if nearly every adult citizen living in Miami-Dade County lost their right to vote. By the numbers, that is the reality in Florida. According to estimates from the Sentencing Project, nearly 1.5 million citizens across Florida have permanently lost the right to vote even though they have fully completed their sentences…

[V]oters should consider the importance of a second chance to someone who has committed a crime in his or her past, but is now part of the community and trying to care for themselves and their families just like everyone else. It is hard to do that without a voice in our government.”

Mar. 4, 2017 - Kwame Akosah, JD

Pro

Barack Obama, JD, 44th President of the United States, stated the following in his July 14, 2015 speech “Remarks by the President at the NAACP Conference,” available at whitehouse.gov:

“[O]n Thursday, I will be the first sitting President to visit a federal prison.  And I’m going to shine a spotlight on this issue, because while the people in our prisons have made some mistakes – and sometimes big mistakes – they are also Americans, and we have to make sure that as they do their time and pay back their debt to society that we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around… if folks have served their time, and they’ve reentered society, they should be able to vote.”

July 14, 2015 - Barack Obama, JD

Pro

Eric H. Holder, JD, US Attorney General, stated the following in his Feb. 11, 2014 speech “Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks on Criminal Justice Reform at Georgetown University Law Center,” available at www.justice.gov:

“In many states, felony disenfranchisement laws are still on the books. And the current scope of these policies is not only too significant to ignore – it is also too unjust to tolerate…

Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans – 5.8 million of our fellow citizens – are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions. That’s more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states. And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable…

It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values. These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed. And so today, I call upon state leaders and other elected officials across the country to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines.”

Feb. 11, 2014 - Eric H. Holder, JD

Pro

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated the following on its webpage “Voting Rights,” available at aclu.org (accessed Mar. 23, 2017):

“The ACLU also pushes to repeal Jim Crow-era laws that take away the rights of citizens with criminal convictions…

Dating back to the Jim Crow era, a patchwork of state felony disfranchisement laws, which vary in severity from state to state, prevent approximately 5.85 million Americans with felony and, in several states, misdemeanor convictions from voting. Confusion about and misapplication of these laws also de facto disenfranchise countless other Americans.

Many disenfranchised citizens live in Florida, Iowa, or Kentucky, the three states with extreme policies of disenfranchising anyone with a felony conviction for life. These states are among those that also disproportionately suppress the voting rights of black people. In Florida and Kentucky, approximately one in five black citizens is disenfranchised due to a prior conviction. In Iowa, the longstanding system of disenfranchisement, paired with the worst disproportionate incarceration rate of black people in the nation, resulted in the disenfranchisement of an estimated one in four voting-age black men by 2005.”

Mar. 23, 2017 - American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Pro

Marc Mauer, MSW, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, stated the following in his Feb. 11, 2014 article “Response by The Sentencing Project to AG Holder’s Call for Felony Disenfranchisement Reform,” available at sentencingproject.org:

“A half century after passage of the Voting Rights Act nearly six million Americans are prohibited from voting due to antiquated laws that are anathema to a democratic society. The racial disparities that plague the criminal justice system are transformed into restrictions on voting that dilute the political power of communities of color. Just as the use of incarceration in the United States is extreme by the norms of industrialized nations, so too are our felony disenfranchisement policies…

Disenfranchisement laws also establish barriers to reentry from prison. By sending a message of ‘second class citizenship,’ these policies work against the goal of integrating citizens back into the community and are counterproductive for public safety goals.”

Feb. 11, 2014 - Marc Mauer, MSW

CON (no)

Con

Roger Clegg, President of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank, as quoted by Daniel Gross in a Feb. 27, 2020 article, “Why Shouldn’t Prisoners Be Voters?,” available at newyorker.com, stated:

“If you’re not willing to follow the law yourself, then you shouldn’t have a right in making the law for everyone else… The common denominator is that we have certain objective minimum qualifications, in terms of responsibility and trustworthiness and commitment to our laws, that we require of people before they participate in the solemn enterprise of self-government.”

Feb. 27, 2020

Con

Mike Miller, District Attorney for Lincoln and Cleveland counties in North Carolina, as quoted by the Associated Press in a Dec. 27 2019 article, “Civil rights groups sue North Carolina over felon voting restrictions,” available at nbcnews.com, stated:

“While it is a right to vote, it is a privilege. I don’t think it’s unfair for society (for felons) to do what that court told them to do before their rights are restored.”

Dec. 27 2019

Con

Hans A. von Spakovsky, JD, Manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, stated the following in his Mar. 15, 2013, article “Ex-Cons Should Prove they Deserve the Right to Vote,” available at heritage.org:

“The proposal to automatically restore felons’ right to vote as soon as they have completed their sentences is shortsighted and bad public policy. When presented as a measure of compassion and justice, it is also hypocritical, as automatic restoration is not in the best interests of felons or the general public…

Several years ago, liberal groups unsuccessfully sued Florida, claiming that the state’s rules were unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act. In Johnson v. Bush, a federal appeals court dismissed those claims, noting that ‘criminal disenfranchisement provisions have existed as a punitive device’ throughout history.

People truly concerned with the well-being of felons and their successful reintegration into the civil society would want the type of system Florida has. Felons have, by definition, knowingly and intentionally violated the laws of society. A five- or seven-year waiting period gives felons the opportunity — and an incentive — to prove they are deserving of exercising their right to vote.”

Mar. 15, 2013 - Hans A. von Spakovsky, JD

Con

Pam Bondi, JD, Florida Attorney General, stated the following in her Mar. 16, 2011 article “Clemency Shift Upholds Rule of Law,” available at tampabay.com:

“[E]very felony is a serious breach of the bonds that unite our society. Rather than obligate the government to initiate the restoration process, it is reasonable to require felons to ask to have their rights restored. Also, felons should demonstrate rehabilitation by living crime-free during a waiting period after the completion of their sentences…

[F]elons earned the designation of convicted felon by breaking the law, so they should also earn the restoration of civil rights by abiding by the law and applying… The ‘paid their debt’ argument also wrongly suggests that completion of a criminal sentence signals rehabilitation.”

Mar. 16, 2011 - Pam Bondi, JD

Con

Bill McCollum, JD, then Florida Attorney General, stated the following in his Apr. 1, 2007 article “McCollum: Be Responsible About Felons’ Rights,” published in the Orlando Sentinel:

“The campaign to automatically restore civil rights to nearly all felons upon release from prison, with no waiting period and no hearing to determine if those felons will go right back to a life of crime, is reckless and irresponsible…

The revolving-door effect of restoring felons’ rights only then to revoke them due to a new criminal offense would diminish the integrity of our democratic government and the rule of law. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, nearly 40 percent of offenders commit another crime within three years of release and 45 percent do so within five years…

Rather than automatically restore rights to violent repeat offenders, we should ensure fairness in the clemency process by immediately eliminating the backlog, as I previously proposed. But for Florida’s serious career criminals, this motto ought to apply: A person who breaks the law should not make the law.”

Apr. 1, 2007 - Bill McCollum, JD

Con

The Washington Times stated in its Nov. 26, 2007 editorial “Another No Vote on Felons,” published in the Washington Times:

“Even in nearby Massachusetts, no stranger to progressivism, voters in 2000 supported a constitutional amendment to bar inmates from voting. The reason is clear: Most people think perpetrators of serious crimes have violated the public trust and cannot be permitted to help determine the future of the communities they harmed…

[F]or the time being, the voters’ good sense about the possible scenarios – the advent of new constituencies of prisoners whom politicians court for votes, for instance – still prevails. As does the sense that most of the time, in most of the country, serious lawbreakers should not help elect the country’s lawmakers.”

Nov. 26, 2007 - Washington Times

Con

Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., JD, then Governor of Maryland, was quoted as stating the following in a Feb. 15, 2006 article “Ehrlich to Veto Bill on Felons,” published in the Washington Times:

“I don’t think you reward the franchise to those who commit the most horrific crimes. Full restoration of every right is inappropriate.”

Feb. 15, 2006 - Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., JD

Con

Tucker Carlson, Host, MSNBC Tucker show, stated the following during a June 26, 2006 episode of the Tucker show:

“Now why would we, as citizens, as non-felon citizens, want felons helping to pick our representatives. If you’re a convicted felon, convicted of a violent crime, you have bad judgment. Why do we want people with that judgment picking our representatives?”

June 26, 2006 - Tucker Carlson