A Voice For The Six Million That Don’t Have One

Maeve Healy

For most people, the disenfranchisement of felons and prisoners is not a critical issue. However, its broad effects on American politics and government prove the exact opposite. Today, over six million Americans have lost their constitutional right to vote, and thus, a crisis is apparent.

Revoking the constitutional right to vote from American felons and prisoners both dehumanizes them and impedes on their rights as American citizens. Because of this, restoring the right to vote for convicts is the morally correct thing to do. All United States prisoners that are citizens should be given the right to vote. As former Chief Justice Earl Warren stated in the opinion of 1957 Supreme Court case Trop v. Dulles, “citizenship is not a right that expires upon misbehavior.” If this is the precedent set by our highest court, then why should the rights that go along with citizenship expire behind bars? Many politicians agree with this idea, including Senator Bernie Sanders, who said he believes “the right to vote is inherent in our democracy.”

In addition to some politicians, about 24% of Americans believe incarcerated people should be able to vote; however, roughly 63% believe in re-enfranchising felons once they have completed their sentences. Considering a clear majority of Americans believe in re-enfranchising felons once they complete their sentences, why isn’t it federally required?

The answer to this is a complicated one, but it has a lot to do with slavery. Once slavery ended, several laws were created to target black people and imprison them: loitering, vagrancy, and other trivial actions. Quite frankly, this race based law system was created for and still benefits white people. Because black people are disproportionately affected by incarceration, their power and voices are disproportionately affected as well. The statistics confirm it: one in thirteen black men is barred from voting, which is four times as many in comparison to other Americans.

When a citizen’s right to vote is taken for any reason at all, so much more is lost than just a ballot in a box. Through not allowing felons and prisoners to vote, the systemic racism this country was founded on will be furthered and America will continue to fail in creating liberty and justice for all.

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