Should convicted felons have the right to vote?
Posted by sanityinjection on March 4, 2009
This is an interesting opinion piece by Erika Wood arguing for federal legislation to overturn laws in 35 states that bar convicted felons from voting, even after they have served their sentences and returned to the community.
The column claims that more than 5 million Americans are prevented from voting by these laws. It also says that these laws were passed along with the poll taxes and literacy tests (since outlawed) that were designed to prevent African-Americans from voting, and argues that the laws disproportionately affect blacks today:
“Nationwide, 13 percent of African-American men have lost the right to vote. If current incarceration rates continue, three in 10 of the next generation of black men will lose the right to vote at some point in their lives.”
Of course, I would argue that if African-Americans are being disproportionately affected, it’s because they are disproportionately committing felonies, and that should be the focus of our concern. So I have to reject Ms. Wood’s attempt to make this a racial justice issue.
I am more interested in the main question of whether a felon who completes his sentence should be barred for life from voting. I certainly support barring felons from voting while they are still in prison. But if a person has spent 15 or 20 years as a law-abiding citizen after serving their time, what goal is being served by denying them the franchise?
Perhaps a compromise would be appropriate. A federal law could say that states can only ban felons from voting for a fixed number of years after their release, up to a maximum of, say, 15 years. Within that limit each state can decide for itself what the appropriate period, if any, should be.