The Supreme Court in 1958 ruled that if someone commits a crime, it is unconstitutional to revoke his citizenship as punishment for committing that crime. Among all other rights the right to vote is an essential factor in a democracy.
Prisoners or felons in the United States have been unable to vote while they serve their sentence, and, in some states, they even lose their right to vote permanently. But in the last few years, there has been a mass unrest and protests in favor of restoring voting rights for ex-felons.
In 2018, more than 60 percent Americans favored granting voting rights to people who have committed a crime after serving the tenure for which they were sentenced. But giving prisoners the right to vote is something hard to be accepted to most of us. In 2019, nearly 70 percent of Americans were against this idea.
Today felon disenfranchisement has greatly impacted people of color, reducing the political power of Black people.
Many felon disenfranchisement laws came up during the time of Reconstruction, specifically to lower the political power of Black people and the enslaved population. They were part of the Black Codes, which is basically a series of laws restricting Black people’s freedom, and allowed authorities to arrest people for things like loitering and homelessness by codifying as crimes any activities that white lawmakers associated with Black people.
This has only been exacerbated mass incarceration these days, in which the prison populations exploded, so you have even more and more people losing the right to vote because of a felony conviction.
A reason why prisoners should have the right to vote is to ease the difficulty in re-enfranchising felons. On their release, many felons or prisoners may be confused about what rights they have, and are forced to a complicated bureaucracy in order to get their voting rights restored.
In a country where prison problem is a big problem, cruel and abusive conditions of prisons, granting the right to vote to the prisoners could also lead to a more humane system. Prisoners would then become voting constituents, and the officials elected by them might feel forced to answer to them, especially in areas where competitive races prevail.
Snatching away the right to vote from an individual just because of a criminal conviction is part of dehumanizing or delegitimizing them as a citizen of this country.
Hence it is undemocratic to revoke the right to vote, especially in a heavily incarcerated society like the United States.
There exist only two such states, Maine and Vermont, that allow prisoners to vote unconditionally, while most democracies in the European Union, as well as Canada, give their prisoners the right to vote.
This condition raises a question in the minds of many that – Is it a mere coincidence that American prisoners are only able to vote in the two whitest states in the union? Both states having a white population of over 94 percent.
If voting and civic engagement are an indispensable part of citizenship, and if citizenship does not expire merely upon misbehavior, then the United States must rethink its policies and must let all of its prisoners vote.
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