Why Felons Shouldn’t Vote


Public Domaain

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Voting Rights Act of 1965

Aron Ravin, Contributor

The United States functions under a philosophy of fairness to everyone in our society. We work for the well-being of our democracy, or, as Theodore Roosevelt would put it, for the public good. In our efforts to preserve the sanctity of our civil processes, we must be careful, and we must be fair. We must not make rash decisions and provide political power to those who are undeserving. Today, because I side with the American value of fairness, I am going to tell you why felons shouldn’t be able to vote.

What really is a felony? That seems to be the logical place to begin with this debate. A felony in US common law is “a serious crime.” So when we discuss the implications of felons voting, we are talking about people who have done things that are either dangerous or morally reprehensible. We are talking about white collar crimes including tax evasion, embezzlement, or identity theft. We are discussing violent criminals like murderers, rapists, or terrorists. These are crimes that are and always will be considered serious throughout the nation and thus will always be considered felonies. We shouldn’t get hung up on minor felonies like marijuana use, because most Americans don’t even consider it a serious crime. Even if we don’t re-enfranchise ex-felons, it’s more than likely that people who smoke will have their voting rights returned to them, simply due to the fact that their crime will cease to be a felony.

Now, I’d like to make one thing clear. Many felons can, in fact, be rehabilitated. They can indeed make conscious choices after exiting prison and restart their lives. However, I take issue with the notion that a mere release from prison even redeems someone, and I especially don’t believe that they are rehabilitated. It would, of course, be ideal to assume that the millions of people exiting prisons are now capable of fully taking part in our society, but the facts state otherwise. According to a 2018 report by the US Department of Justice, over 70% of all state felons will be arrested again at least once after exiting prison in only 9 years. Almost half of all felons will be reconvicted within only one year. These are saddening statistics, and I feel no pride being the one to share them. However, it points to a logical conclusion. There is a certain lack of judgment that goes hand in hand with committing a felony. If the vast majority of felons reentering society cannot even abide by the law, why would we give them the responsibility to help shape it?

This takes us to a clear reason as to why convicted felons shouldn’t simply be given political power is that they have proven themselves to be morally compromised. White collar criminals who steal the assets of their fellow Americans have violated the trust society once had in them. People who commit tax evasion, people who willingly refuse to contribute to our nation and its services, have lost the right to be able to make the laws that govern the nation. People who commit heinous acts, like those involved with pedophilia, the mafia, or war crimes, are not simply redeemed by being released from jail. As such, there is no reason to return to them the ability to choose our leaders. We must not forget that someone who does these things has something fundamentally wrong with them. Someone who would take part in a drive-by shooting doesn’t suddenly become equal to the rest of us because we forced punishment on them. Ex-felons cannot simply be redeemed or rehabilitated because we forced upon them a sentence. Redemption is something that is earned, and you can only earn something if you do something out of your own free will. Anything else is simply giving away forgiveness, the forgiveness was not earned. And we as a society owe nothing to the people who have harmed our society! Serving time in jail is simply not enough!

Re-enfranchising people who have committed serious crimes just because they served their time would also create a huge moral dilemma for the nation. Within the US, we have always been careful in who we allow to influence our laws. We do this in order to guarantee, to the best of our ability, that voters have the best interest of the country and the state at heart. We see laws barring teenagers and permanent residents from voting. They need to abide by our laws, they need to pay taxes, and they have clear stakes in the well-being of the country. However, they do not have the ability to vote in our elections, purely because we want our voters to be guaranteed to be mature enough to make decisions. Imagine the slap to the face it would be to 17-year-olds and permanent residents who have lived here for much of their lives for them to be told that their voice matters less than that of a domestic abuser, or even a spy. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t right. It would also be a mockery of all the suffrage movements of the past. The US has worked hard to develop the level of fairness in voting we see today. When the nation was founded, only land-owning white men could vote. That changed when we had the basic realization that owning land does not make someone more reasonable. Later, it went from only white men being able to vote, to all men being able to vote. We realized that a black man is no less capable of voting than a white man. Finally, we granted women’s suffrage, after we realized that a woman’s voice is just as important as a man. Why would we give felons the right to vote purely because they exit prison? We haven’t realized they’re just as capable, because they aren’t.

I am instead calling for a return to what we once did. Every state at one point had “clemency boards,” boards made up of the state’s respective governor and subordinates. On these boards, the governors use their constitutional ability to pardon ex-felons on a case by case basis. They assess the lifestyle of the person once they have exited prison. This case-by-case review ensures that dangerous, morally compromised people can’t unduly influence our electoral process. Yes, it is a slim minority of ex-felons who are reenfranchised in this process, and the process can take a while. However, we as a society are under no obligation to expedite the process for felons. They broke our trust, and if they want it restored, they must wait patiently and repent for their crimes on their own. Leaving jail does not make you a better person!