Felony disenfranchisement

Felony disenfranchisement

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US constitution presents the individuals born or naturalized in the United States with citizenship rights and prevents the states of US from abridging the privileges and immunities of the same citizens. Immediately under section 1 is section 2, which denies the suffrage to the individuals of the same states involved in any form of rebellion or crime, thereby creating one of the most explicit loopholes in the US constitution. This loophole has had a direct bearing on felony disenfranchisement since the ratification of the 14th amendment.

Close to 6.1 million American citizens are barred from casting a vote in the ballot box due to state varied laws associated with felony disenfranchisement. This number of 6.1 million consists of convicts in prison, on probation or serving their parole period.  But once one dives into the intricacies of this number, he/she realizes that how the disparate state policies regarding the voting rights of ex-felons, parolees or even those in prisons convicted of minor crimes have unfairly divested them of enfranchisement for a long time. Such measures have prevented their inoculation back into the society posing a risk of marginalization or even a relapse to the activities which led to their disenfranchisement.

Almost 50 percent of the disenfranchised population is formed by those who have completed their sentence and are now leading a life of a tax-paying and law-abiding US citizen from the 12 states that bar those from voting post-sentence.  30 US states abridge the voting rights of felony probationers, 30 states disenfranchise parolees, and as mentioned already, 12 states of US continue to deny voting rights to anyone withholding any criminal record or currently in prison. Out of 50 states, Maine and Vermont remain the only 2 states with provision to vote for those who are incarcerated.

Despite differing state policies when it comes to the suffrage of felons, the niggling suspicion of competence and judgment always comes into the fray. The precedent under which children, non-citizens and mentally incompetent are denied the right to vote is because of the dubious nature of their decision making. Therefore, in the same vein, the judgment and discernment of those convicted of serious crimes ought to be looked upon with an element of doubt.  Although it is imperative of the lawmakers to reconstitute the felons who have served their sentence and weren’t improved by the experience of incarceration back into the society, it is precisely because of this unimproved demeanor that almost half of these released criminals end up getting back into the prison. Therefore, it makes sense to wait for a while in opposition to immediate restoration of their voting rights.

However, it has been seen that this buffer period, before re-enfranchisement, also follows the trail of disenfranchising policies of different states. It can take from 5 months to 5 years before an ex-convict is granted back his right to make it up to the ballot box.  Also, ever since the turn of the 20th century, voting rights in the US have always had racial under roots. Alabama’s 1901 constitution, still in its full force today, was established to assert white supremacy by “convicting those involved in a felony of moral turpitude” by law rather than by force or fraud.  And only Alabama isn’t privy to this subtle practice of recidivism.  As the numbers would suggest, one in 13 African Americans of voting age is denied the right to vote: a rate four times more than that of non-African Americans. Florida (21 percent), Tennessee (22 percent), Kentucky (26 percent) and Virginia(21 percent) constitute the state with most disenfranchised Africans Americans.

Therefore, this dissonance between the deification of equality and freedom, and creating an electorate caste system paints the US constitution as well as the American values in the lousy picture. So, what do you think, should the convicted criminal have the right to vote or not?

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