As the nation gets ready for the upcoming midterm elections, the Florida amendment ballot that would restore voting rights to 1.5 million convicted felons in Florida has caught the attention of many Florida residents.
An estimated 6.1 million people in the United States with a felony conviction are barred from voting in elections, a consequence recognized as disenfranchisement by the 15th amendment. The majority of these ex-convicts are allowed the privilege to marry, consume alcohol, drive and own property yet are restricted from voting in elections on the local, state and national level.
As functioning members of society, ex-felons that have completed their sentences and have been rehabilitated should be allowed the right to vote. If the judgment of a felon to own property, drive, marry and consume alcohol is trusted, so should their ability to properly make a decision to choose a candidate to represent them. Ex-convicts that have completed their sentences have paid their debt to society, and should not have all of their civil rights⎼ specifically voting⎼ stripped away from them.
The vast majority of felons and ex-felons have only committed crimes as a result of growing up in poverty-stricken areas plagued by crime. In most cases, felons are economically disadvantaged and had a poor upbringing, which initially caused them to go against our justice system.
According to an economic study done by The Brookings Institution, “About 15 percent of the individuals incarcerated at around age 30 come from families in the bottom 5 percent of family income, 47 percent grew up in families in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, and 82 percent are from the bottom half of families.”
If these same ex-felons were allowed the right to vote, they could possibly put candidates in office that would prevent the incarceration of troubled citizens in the future.
Ex-convicts that have completed their sentences have paid their debt to society.
A belief held by many that argue that ex-felons should be denied the right to vote is that felons cannot be trusted enough for them to be allowed the right to vote.
“We don’t let children vote, for instance, or noncitizens, or the mentally incompetent. Why? Because we don’t trust them and their judgment. So the question is, do criminals belong in that category? And I think the answer is clearly yes. People who commit serious crimes have shown that they are not trustworthy,” President and General Counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity Roger Clegg said.
Ex-felons are citizens of the United States. They are not children, and they are definitely not mentally incompetent. As a society, we have failed these people by not providing them with the necessary resources for them to be law-abiding, functional members of society. Do they not deserve a second chance, even after serving the sentence that was assigned to them?
“They don’t lose their freedom of religion, their right against self-incrimination or their right not to have soldiers quartered in their homes in time of war. But in many places, the assumption is that they can’t be trusted to help choose our leaders… If we thought criminals could never be reformed, we wouldn’t let them out of prison in the first place,” Columnist and Editorial Writer at the Chicago Tribune Steve Chapman said.
Ex-convicts that have completed their sentences have paid their debt to society, and do not deserve to have their civil right to vote taken away from them, especially after having to be isolated from society for an extended period of time.
The purpose of a prison sentence is to punish convicts for the crimes they committed, not to punish them for their crimes even after they have finished their sentences. There is no justice in restricting a citizen that wants to be engaged in the system from participating in it.
Photo courtesy of ABC News