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Should a Citizen be Barred From Voting? When Criminal Punishment Impacts Civil Rights

On Behalf of | Feb 19, 2014 | civil rights

Did you know that in the State of Florida, ten percent of the population is ineligible to vote because of the ban against allowing convicted felons from voting? Any felony is a disqualifier. A non-violent offender who has received a straight probationary sentence cannot vote; nor can an offender who has completed his or her sentence.

What makes this automatic ban even worse in the State of Florida is Governor Scott’s requirement that all felons, regardless of the underlying offense, must wait five years after completing their sentence before they can even apply to vote again. Couple this five year waiting period with the unreasonable backlog of pending requests for restoration of civil rights, and the denial of the right to vote can stretch into the decades.

Who does this delay benefit? Studies show that felons who have been denied the right to vote were far more likely to vote for Democrats, to the point that the 2000 presidential election most likely would have resulted in a different outcome. The issue, however, should not be which party would most benefit from eliminating this roadblock to participatory government. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are beginning to realize that people who participate in making decisions about their government become invested in its success.

Denying non-violent felons the right to vote also has a racially disparate impact upon the African-American community. Indeed, today’s prohibition against convicted felons voting can be traced to the racist policies used in the South after the Civil War to keep black people from participating in the democratic process. Recognizing the discriminatory basis for these laws, other states have procedures in place which permit convicted felons to apply for restoration of their right to vote upon completion of their sentence.

Florida should adopt such procedures before the next general election. The criminal justice has many ways to extract punishment from an offender. Once someone has served his or her punishment, it does not make sense to take away one of our most fundamental civil rights: the right to decide how we choose to be governed.