Allow Criminals to Vote

Valerie Wu, Features Editor

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6.1 million Americans cannot vote in the United States because of felony convictions. The disenfranchisement–the deprivation of voting rights–of criminals in America has resulted in 1 of every 13 African Americans losing the ability to participate in the electoral process.

These statistics are key in determining the social and racial impacts of felony disenfranchisement, but they are only a few out of many. There are more rates and percentages to be addressed, numbers that may shed more light on the gravity of the situation at hand.

Yet in the midst of all the data, one thing is clear–the disenfranchisement of criminals ultimately harms the democratic nature of American society.

With 6.1 million Americans left unable to vote because of their criminal background, the voting population is significantly diminished. This means that proportionally, many American voices are left unheard and silenced.

Furthermore, there are many hidden ramifications to the issue of criminal rights–ones that may not be seen through just the numbers.When criminals are stripped of their voting rights, there are collateral consequences. This includes the inability of criminals to transition back to community life, a lack of effective participation in American politics, and skewed voting data that demonstrates preferences from only one part of the population.

Until felons are given the ability to vote, the diversity of the American population will never be fully factored in who we elect to represent us. This is a deliberate attack on American democracy: the concept that everyone deserves the equal opportunity to participate in politics.

Additionally, the disenfranchisement of criminals leads to racial bias at the polls. According to data from The Sentencing Project, 1 of every 13 African Americans has lost their voting rights due to felony disenfranchisement. Black people are already subject to unfair voting practices–a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was recently struck down–so preventing felons, who are disproportionately black, from voting further marginalizes the entire black community.

All of this only further illustrates the fact that the disenfranchisement of criminals is rooted in a pervasive need to alienate certain individuals in society based on their backgrounds. The democratic process is threatened by the selective distribution of voting rights to only those deemed “worthy.”

Certainly it’s true that criminals are criminals for a reason. Why give them the same rights offered to everyone else if they refuse to follow the same rules?

What this fails to address, however, is the fact that criminals are just as valuable to society as anyone else. If we want to offer them the opportunity for rehabilitation and reform, then the opportunity to vote is an essential part of that process.

Voting is a key principle of American democracy. If we want criminals to better educate themselves on government and how to participate in it, then allowing them the right to vote is only the beginning.