Voting Rights For Criminals: Felons Should Be Allowed To Vote

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There are people all around the United States who have served their time in prison because of a crime they committed and were released after their sentence. They live completely different lives now, they are completely new people. For those former criminals who want to have a voice in their home state may not be allowed depending on where they live. This nationwide debate has swept the country for years, but it has only been called into serious question in 2018. The debate remains if citizens who have prior felony convictions will be allowed to vote once more.

Executive Director Richard Harrison has made comments about the debate and he says “There are certainly inspirational stories about people who have turned their lives around, and whom, most would probably agree, may be entitled to clemency and restoration of voting rights. But that decision should be made on an individualized, case by case basis” (Harrison). There are no voting restrictions for felons that every state is to follow, so each state is left to make up their own set of laws for the situation. Maine and Vermont are two states that let people vote despite the fact that they are in prison. Kentucky and Iowa are two states that do not allow anyone with a felony conviction vote. In states like these, citizens can plead their rights to their governor, but it is a lengthy process that can take years, and there is no guarantee that rights will be restored.

Florida is one of the few states that does not allow prior felons the right to vote after their release from prison. There are close to 2 million people in Florida alone who have been stripped of their rights upon their release. 1 and 10 Floridians have lost their right to vote. These people are disenfranchised due to a prior felony conviction. For someone to be disenfranchised means that their rights have been taken away from them, and in this instance, it is the right to vote. Governor Rick Scott of Florida has denied countless numbers of people the restoration of civil rights. In the last eight years, the number of disenfranchised people has increased to almost 200,000 people.

In Florida 1 in 4 black adults have been deprived of their legal right to vote. Some ask how this situation even came about. In 1865, half of Florida’s population consisted of free black slaves after the end of the Civil War. Black Codes were created to prevent African American people from gaining power. These laws caused African American people to be faced with harsh sentences in prison for minor crimes. Following this, they did not let anyone with a conviction participate in voting after their release. These laws did not come into question until 2018.

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In 2018, Amendment 4 was proposed to restore voting rights for the people of Florida who have completed the sentence of their convicted felonies, except those convicted of murder and sex crimes. The amendment was passed, but there is still some concern if it will become implemented. The reason for concern is because of the state’s failure to implement citizen-driven ballots in the past.

A lot of the people who fought to get Amendment 4 passed and are still fighting to get it implemented believe that voting gives you a voice. Voting gives people the sense that they belong to a community. Voting is a civic responsibility, and people who have prior felony convictions believe that their rights as citizens have been stripped from them by not being allowed to vote. Being a citizen that demonstrates citizenship means being a responsible contributing member of society and it is impossible for these individuals to do so when their voting rights have been taken away from them.

Now, like Richard Harrison said, some cases should be dealt with individually based on each situation. But he also comes to say that “There are fair criticisms of the current clemency process … But throwing out the system in favor of automatic, blanket, no questions asked restoration of voting rights is bad policy and the wrong approach” (Harrison). Individuals who are against this amendment argue that it is irresponsible to hand over one’s civil rights without question after their sentence is finished. Some are not necessarily against the passing of the amendment, they just believe that an individual must prove that they are willing to abide by the law as well as prove that they are trustworthy enough to participate in the act of voting.

I do think it is important for citizens with prior felony convictions have the chance to ear their civil rights back. I agree with Richard Harrison when he said that each case should be handled individually. Every situation is different, and I do not think one singular law can cover every situation. If anything, people showing concern about handing rights back to people with past convictions is showing great responsibility. They are expressing their concern for their state. I do however believe that every citizen should have the opportunity to restore their civil rights, without such a lengthy process.

Some against this amendment argue that the right for felons to vote is not a issue the federal government should be handling, but rather it be handled on a state to state basis. Those who are for the implementation of Amendment 4 and who have prior felony convictions feel that their rights are being stripped from them as citizens. This issue has prominently been focused in Florida, but it has spread throughout the United States and is now a nationwide debate.

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