In case the unceasing barrage of political advertisements hasn’t given it away yet, we are fast approaching another national election. Everywhere you look – be it television, radio, print, or even digital media – there is a saturation of appeals for citizens to go out and support this candidate or this issue. “Every vote counts,” we are told, so it is important to make your voice heard.
There is an exception to this, however.
Roughly 5.85 million Americans previously convicted of felonies are denied voting privileges, according to the Sentencing Project. Seventy-five percent of these felons are no longer behind bars.
“When people are punished for crimes that they’ve committed, that should not involve forfeiting their basic rights of citizenship, which is what felony disenfranchisement does,” Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, says in an interview with NBC News.
There is a wide variety of approaches to restoring voting rights to ex-prisoners that varies greatly from state to state. Some states require an appeal to a county court, a vote of the state legislature, or express permission granted by the governor. Other states require payment of all fines and court fees before ex-felons can apply for voting privileges.
Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, himself a convicted felon, spoke to the issue in a Washington Post commentary earlier this year:
What is the objection to allowing past offenders to vote? Voting does not put anyone in danger. Sound public policy would teach us that if we want to turn ex-offenders into responsible citizens, we must demand of them responsible behavior. And once they demonstrate responsible behavior, what possible justification is there, beyond scoring political points during an election, for stripping them of their civil rights for the rest of their lives?
Restoring voting rights is an important way society can welcome back those who strayed, sometimes seriously, but are now on the right path. It costs taxpayers nothing, but it means a great deal to an ex-offender.
Colson was denied voting rights for 28 years following his conviction, until having his privileges restored in 2000. In a Breakpoint commentary just prior to casting his first vote in nearly three decades, he describes the joy of a convicted felon when he told him how he could regain his right to vote. “[M]aybe this was God’s way of telling me I was right to seek to regain my vote – that I might encourage other ex-convicts to obtain theirs. It’s a right they deserve to have.”
Should convicted felons be denied the right to vote? And if so, what processes should be used to ensure such restoration in a reasonable time? Let us know in the comments!