Issues pertaining to democracy and basic human freedoms have always

been controversial in the United States, as well as other parts of the
globe. This may especially have resulted from the fact that a large
number of countries have a history of slavery, repression and even
despotic leadership, which formed the foundation upon which the nations
are built. While there are varied controversial issues that touch on
democracy, none comes as more fundamental to a nation as the capacity of
all individuals in the nation to make a choice as to the kind of
leadership that they want, as well as the structures within which they
would like to be governed. Indeed, recent times have seen an increase in
the interest of individuals from all social, economic and political
groups with their capacity to vote. This is especially considering the
immense bearing that voting has on the quality of lives that the
individuals live, as well as the stability and wellbeing of the nation.
While the United States has always underlined the fundamental nature of
democracy, elections and voting, it has also put restrictions with
regard to the people who can participate in these elections. Indeed,
there has been immense controversy with regard to whether or not
ex-convicts should be allowed to vote. While there may be varied
opinions as to whether ex-convicts should be allowed to vote, it would
be imperative that the laws are amended to eliminate any restrictions
that curtail their right to vote.
The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the entire
globe, with one in every 100 adults being imprisoned. Indeed, millions
more have persistently been incorporated in the category of ex-convicts,
including individuals on probation and parole who, in spite of their
being free, have remained excluded, stigmatized, as well as stripped of
their freedom and democratic right to vote. This population amounts to
about 5.85 million individuals, which is a 9 percent increase from the
2004 statistics. Of all the 50 states, only Vermont and Maine have
eliminated the restrictions and allowed both incarcerated prisoners and
ex-convicts to participate in elections. The other 48 states have
imposed some sort of restrictions on this fundamental group of
Americans. For instance, a total of eleven states, six of which are
situated in the South have completely inhibited felons from
participating in elections even after they are done with their prison
sentences, as well as their parole or probation. While this may be the
case, there are varied reasons as to why ex-felons should be allowed to
participate in elections.
First, the prohibition of ex-convicts from participating in the
elections is an affront on their fundamental human rights. The right to
vote comes as a fundamental aspect or component of democracy in the
United States. Indeed, democracy includes all citizens of the United
States. If it has to work, it cannot afford to exclude an immense
proportion of voters simply because they committed a crime. Scholars
have underlined the fact that the United States was founded on democracy
and the notion of equality of every individual in the United States
irrespective of what they have done or their social status (Boothe 49).
This underlines the dumb and naïve nature of any law prohibiting them
from participating in the elections simply because they committed a
crime, especially considering that making a mistake does not make an
individual oblivious to politics or even render him incapable of making
decisions that touch on the kind of governance that he would want.
On the same note, prohibiting former convicts from participating in
elections seems a bit illogical especially considering that they are not
sheltered from making contributions to the economy. For instance, it is
worth noting that former convicts are still required to pay their taxes,
as well as adhere to other obligations to which other members of the
society are required to adhere. It is, undoubtedly, contradictory that
they would be required to contribute to nation building and pay taxes,
yet not be allowed to make decisions pertaining to the manner in which
their taxes are used or even the people who would be in control of their
resources (Deiter 32). Still on the same note, it is worth noting that
former convicts usually have their right to obtain and possess firearms
restored immediately they leave prisons and other correctional
facilities. This is irrespective of the fact that they may have
committed grave crimes that endangered the lives of other people in the
society (Hull 39). Scholars have noted that some of them have, in fact,
gone ahead to commit further crimes with the firearms, something that is
yet to arouse the interest of policymakers or even trigger thoughts of
curtailing such rights that have the potential to disrupt the stability
and wellbeing of the society. It is, therefore, not surprising that
questions would be raised as to the criterion that was used in
restricting former convicts from participating in the electoral process,
especially considering that it does not carry any potential for harm to
the society (Deiter 31).
In addition, denying ex-felons the right to participate in elections
seems a bit contradictory, especially with regard to the essence of
rehabilitation and the effectiveness of correctional institutions.
Indeed, the main essence of correctional institutions is to rehabilitate
individuals and take them back to the accepted norms and ways of life.
In this case, it is assumed that by the time an individual is released
from a correctional facility or completes his or her parole and
probation period, he or she would have been reformed and can, therefore,
be re-integrated into the mainstream society (Hull 43). This would,
undoubtedly, come with a restoration of all fundamental rights that are
enjoyed by other members of the society. In this regard, it is
contradictory that even after they have been released from correctional
facilities, they continue to be treated as prisoners with certain
fundamental rights being withheld from them. Indeed, this should poke
holes on the effectiveness of the correctional institutions in
rehabilitating individuals (Hull 44). Scholars have also underlined the
fact that the restoration of all human and civil rights, including the
right to participate in elections is a fundamental component of
effective rehabilitation.
In addition, the prohibition of ex-felons from taking part in the
elections has a direct effect on the election outcomes. Researchers have
underlined the case of Florida in the 2000 elections as one of the most
notorious and egregious cases in the history of the United States. It is
noted that on that day when the 2000 presidential elections were held,
there were around 600,000 former felons or ex-convicts who were done
with their sentences including paroles and even probations. However,
they could not participate in elections thanks to the prohibitive or
restrictive laws pertaining to the voting rights of former felons in
Florida. Scholars have underlined the fact that there is a widespread
belief that the 2000 presidential elections would have been captured by
Al Gore if only Florida had eliminated the prohibitions and allowed
former felons to participate in the elections (Manza and Christopher
786). Sociologists have also underlined the fact that the 2000
presidential election were not the only ones in which the participation
of ex-felons would have affected the outcomes of the elections. An
analysis of the party choice showed that felon voter would have had
strong preferences for Democratic candidates in both the senatorial and
presidential elections. Indeed, even significantly unpopular Democratic
candidates in the recent presidential elections such as the 1972
Democratic candidate George McGovern would have captured at least 70 per
cent of the votes from felons and ex-felons (Manza and Christopher 786).
As much as the Democratic preferences are significantly less stable and
pronounced with regard to the senatorial elections, research showed that
the democratic candidates would have attained at least 7 out of every
ten votes that felons and ex-felons cast in about 14 out of the last 15
election years of the United States Senate. The elimination of those
individuals that would have preferred Democratic candidates from the
pool of qualified or eligible voters, the disenfranchisement has offered
a small but significantly clear advantage to the Republican candidates
in both the senatorial and presidential elections that have been held
from 1972 to 2000 (Manza and Christopher 787).
On the same note, the disenfranchisement has been seen as taking a
racial discrimination angle especially considering the statistics
pertaining to the rates of incarceration. Research has shown that there
is a disproportionate number African Americans or blacks among the
disenfranchised individuals, which remains an immense problem pertaining
to racial justice. It is noted that approximately 7.7 per cent of the
entire African Americans who have attained voting age are
disenfranchised as a result of their criminal records (Deiter 39). This
is quite a high proportion especially considering the less than 2 per
cent proportion for whites or non-blacks (Deiter 39). This elimination
of the rights of African Americans to participate in voting has been
connected to their disproportionate numbers in the criminal justice
systems where they account for about 38.2 per cent of the entire
population in correctional facilities. This is irrespective of the fact
that they make up only about 12.6 per cent of the entire population of
the United States. Scholars and courts have for a long time concluded
that race provides an explanation as to the overrepresentation of
minorities in prisons way better than any other factor (Alexander 34).
They state that there will be an increase in the number of people that
are disenfranchised with blacks or African Americans being unfairly
excluded from participating in elections at a significantly higher rate
until such a time when policy makers come up with strategies that will
make the criminal systems fairer. On the same note, they state that the
disenfranchisement can be explained through linking it to the history of
the United States. It is worth noting that the disenfranchisement
underwent immense proliferation after reconstruction as one of the
techniques used to prevent former slaves (usually African Americans or
people of color) from participating in elections (Alexander 34). The
disenfranchisement of African Americans was banned by the Fifteenth
Amendment, but the southern states started using laws pertaining to
criminal disenfranchisement so as to suppress black votes (Boothe 59).
As much as lawmakers would stated that ex-felons are disenfranchised as
they need to prove or demonstrate that they are worthy of re-entry into
society, or that the laws would go a long way in preventing voter fraud,
the disenfranchisement of the former convicts often results in an
overwhelming underrepresentation of people of color or African Americans
in the political process (Alexander 45). This is especially considering
that about one out of every seven people of color are disenfranchised, a
rate that is seven times that of the national average. This underlines
the fact that the prohibition of ex-felons from voting would,
essentially result in an increase in the number of African Americans who
are excluded from participating in elections, which takes up an element
of discrimination against minorities.
In addition, laws that prohibit former convicts from participating in
elections are discriminatory to the poor. This is especially considering
that some states bar former convicts from participating in elections
simply because they do not have the capacity to pay back their fines,
interest or fees (Manza and Christopher 56). The reincorporation of
these individuals into the mainstream society is imperative especially
if the society truly wants to re-engage individuals that were convicted
of felonies with the mainstream society, be rehabilitated, as well as
have a sense of belonging or feel as a component of a broader community
thereby generating some incentives that would prevent them from
recidivating. This, scholars have noted, is closely connected to the
aspect of being an even-handed and just society. Indeed, it is not fair
that hundreds of thousands, or even millions of citizens in the United
States do not have the capacity to regain their right to participate in
elections simply because they are incapable of paying these fines or are
poor. The wealthy, or people of means, have the capacity to repay their
financial debts, while the poor do not have the capacity to do the same,
in which case they are forever prevented from participating in the
electoral process (Pettus 28). This is undoubtedly the epitome of an
unjust society and system of governance.
However, some scholars and researchers have underlined the notion that
convicts and former convicts should be barred from participating in the
electoral process. This is especially considering that the constitution
does not allow all people to participate in the electoral process. For
instance, noncitizens, children or individuals who are deemed as
mentally incompetent are barred from participating in the electoral
process. This is because they cannot be trusted, nor can their judgment.
Of course there are varied reasons as to why they are considered
untrustworthy but their judgment seems to be their common denominator
(Pettus 28). For a large number of people, their untrustworthiness goes
beyond the equitable and instrumental presumptions. Noncitizens are
barred from voting simply because there are questions as to how
committed they are to the res publica. Of course, the question,
therefore, revolves around whether or not criminals and former convicts
belong in this category. These scholars think in the affirmative, as
thee convicts and former convicts have confirmed their
untrustworthiness, as well as their unwillingness to follow the laid out
rules. In this regard, it would make no sense to give them the capacity
to make rules for other people through voting. Indeed, they ask why the
convicts and former convicts should be allowed to have rights similar to
those of other law abiding citizens when their morals are not similar to
those of law abiding citizens (Pettus 34). Voting is viewed not as a
right but as a privilege, just as is the case for obtaining a driver’s
license. The individuals lose the privilege once they commit crimes as
they show that they do not wish to follow the rules pertaining to the
society. Felons, whether in prisons or as former convicts, have shown
total disregard for the rule of law and the government, in which case
they have forfeited their right to have a say in the same. In this case,
it is illogical to give them the capacity to affect the outcomes
pertaining to a government that they ignored willfully (Manza and
Christopher 59). While this may be the case, these researchers seem to
ignore the capacity of individuals to recognize their mistakes and
reform to become credible human beings in the society. If they would not
be deemed trustworthy as is the case for the mentally handicapped and
children, it should also be the case that they are deemed incapable of
paying taxes and taking part in nation building, otherwise, requiring
them to fulfill these obligations without giving them the right to
determine the manner in which their taxes are used is selfish and
self-defeatist. Indeed, these are individuals who are deemed to have the
mental acuity to make fundamental decisions pertaining to business
(Pettus 45). Some of them were incarcerated at a tender age, in which
case they went ahead to pay their debt to the society and have lived
upright lives since then. In essence, denying them the right is a vote
of no confidence on the capacity of correctional facilities to
rehabilitate individuals and an ignorance of the capacity of individuals
to reform.
In conclusion, issues pertaining to democracy and basic human freedoms
have always been controversial in the United States, as well as other
parts of the globe. This is especially with regard to the capacity of
individuals to vote and participate in the electoral process. The United
States has, for a long time, prohibited ex-convicts from voting. While
there may be varied opinions as to whether ex-convicts should be allowed
to vote, it would be imperative that the laws are amended to eliminate
any restrictions that curtail their right to vote. These prohibitions
take a racial discrimination angle, especially considering the
disproportionate nature of incarcerations and convictions. On the same
note, it may discriminate against the poor especially in instances where
they are unable to pay fines. In addition, it is an affront on the
fundamental human rights. It makes no sense to prohibit ex-convicts from
participating in the electoral process, yet require them to take part in
paying taxes and nation building. Moreover, researchers have noted that
the discriminatory laws tend to give a clear advantage to the Republican
Party as a large number of former convicts would be voting for
Democrats. This has been shown to have a bearing on the outcomes of
elections. However, there are individuals who feel that former convicts
should not vote as they have proved to be untrustworthy as far as
respect for the rule of law is concerned. Indeed, they opine that voting
is a privilege which the individuals forfeit when they break rules.
However, this notion seems self-defeatist as the same former convicts
are expected to contribute to nation building. In addition, they have
already paid their debts to the society, in which case they should be
treated like other citizens.
Works cited
Manza, Jeff, and Christopher Uggen. Locked Out: Felon
Disenfranchisement and American Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2006. Print
Deiter, James M. Unintended Consequences?: Felon Disenfranchisement,
Citizenship, Race and the War on Drugs. , 2004. Print.
Pettus, Katherine I. Felony Disenfranchisement in America: Historical
Origins, Institutional Racism, and Modern Consequences. New York: LFB
Scholarly Pub. LLC, 2005. Print
Hull, Elizabeth. The Disenfranchisement of Ex-Felons. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 2006. Print
Boothe, Demico. Why Are so Many Black Men in Prison?United States: Full
Surface, 2007. Print.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness. New York: New Press, 2010. Print.
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