“Should felons be allowed to vote?” An estimated 5.85 million people (as of 2010) with a felony conviction are barred from voting in elections – a condition known as disenfranchisement. Each state has its own laws on disenfranchisement. While Vermont and Maine allow felons to vote while in prison, nine other states permanently restrict certain felons from voting. Proponents of felon re-enfranchisement say that felons who have paid their debt to society by completing their sentences should have all of their rights and privileges restored. They argue that efforts to block ex-felons from voting are unfair, undemocratic, and politically or racially motivated. Opponents say felon voting restrictions are consistent with other voting limitations such as age, residency, sanity, etc., and other felon restrictions such as no guns for violent offenders and no sex offenders near schools. They say that convicted felons have demonstrated poor judgment and should not be trusted with a vote. In Ohio, individuals incarcerated for a felony conviction are ineligible to vote. Voting rights are automatically restored upon release from prison, and people on parole or probation can vote. Ex-offenders should re-register to vote. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Did You Know? * In 1789, Kentucky became the first U.S. state to ban convicted criminals from voting. * U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that felon disenfranchisement is a violation of the Voting Rights Act in her May 4, 2006 dissenting opinion in Hayden v. Pataki. * In 2004, Florida had the highest percentage of disenfranchised voters (9.01%) of any state. Delaware, at 7.54%, was second, and Alabama, at 7.37%, was third. * In 2008 U.S. jails and prisons housed 2,322,486 people – more than the entire populations of Alaska, Montana, and Vermont combined. * Maine and Vermont are the only two states where felons are permitted to vote while in prison. * In Canada, convicted felons have no voting restrictions and can vote while incarcerated. * In 1882, the U.S. Congress passed the Edmunds Act banning convicted polygamists from voting or holding political office. * For a convicted felon to vote in Mississippi, his or her state representative must personally author a bill re-enfranchising that individual. Both houses of the legislature must then pass the bill. Re-enfranchisement can also be granted directly by the governor. * In 2002, the U.S. Senate voted 63-31 against legislation that would have restored voting rights to ex-felons voting in federal elections. * In 2004, the Alabama Republican Party Chair stated that the party was "opposed to [restoring voting rights] because felons don't tend to vote Republican." * On Jan. 5, 2010, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (2-1) that Washington's felon disenfranchisement law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. On Oct. 7, 2010 a full 11 judge panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously reversed the decision. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 2012 Presidential Candidates on Felon Voting Barack Obama (D): “I support restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders. I am a cosponsor of the Count Every Vote Act, and would sign that legislation into law as president.” Mitt Romney (R): “I think people who committed violent crimes should not be allowed to vote again… As governor of Massachusetts, I had an 85 percent Democratic legislature. This is something we discussed. My view was people who committed violent crimes should not be able to vote, even upon coming out of office. In my state, I had a state that – that said that they did not favor my position. I’m not letting felons who had committed violent crimes vote. I think it’s a – a position that’s reasonable, and that’s the position I’ve got.” Gary Johnson (L): New Mexico SB 204 – “A person who has served the entirety of a sentence imposed for a felony conviction, including a term of probation or parole shall, upon his request to the corrections department, be issued a certificate of completion by the corrections department. Presentation of the certificate of completion to a county clerk shall entitle the person to register to vote.” Jill Stein (G): “Restore the vote to ex-offenders who’ve paid their debt to society.” Virgil Goode (C): “No (felons should not be able to vote).” ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Trusting a Felon's Judgment PRO: "We let ex-convicts marry, reproduce, buy beer, own property and drive. They don't lose their freedom of religion, their right against self-incrimination or their right not to have soldiers quartered in their homes in time of war. But in many places, the assumption is that they can't be trusted to help choose our leaders... If we thought criminals could never be reformed, we wouldn't let them out of prison in the first place." CON: "We don't let children vote, for instance, or noncitizens, or the mentally incompetent. Why? Because we don't trust them and their judgment... So the question is, do criminals belong in that category? And I think the answer is clearly yes. People who commit serious crimes have shown that they are not trustworthy." 2. Racism and Felon Disenfranchisement PRO: "Racial minorities are overrepresented in the felon population based upon factors that cannot be explained by nonracial reasons... Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the discriminatory impact of Washington's felon disenfranchisement is attributable to racial discrimination in Washington's criminal justice system." CON: "The frequently heard charge is that disenfranchising felons is racist because the felon population is disproportionately black. But the mere fact that blacks make up a lopsided percentage of the nation's prison population doesn't prove that racism is to blame. Is the mostly male population of the prisons evidence of reverse sexism? Of course not: men commit the vast majority of serious crimes - a fact no one would dispute - and that's why there are lots more of them than women behind bars. Regrettably, blacks also commit a disproportionate number of felonies, as victim surveys show. In any case, a felon either deserves his punishment or not, whatever his race. If he does, it may also be that he deserves disenfranchisement. His race, in both cases, is irrelevant." 3. Constitutionality PRO: "The Eighth Amendment 'succinctly prohibits 'excessive' sanctions,' and demands that 'punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to the offense'... Thus, the states that continue to exclude all felons permanently are outliers, both within CON: "Unlike any other voting qualification, felon disenfranchisement laws are explicitly endorsed by the text of the Fourteenth Amendment.... They are presumptively constitutional. Only a narrow subset of them - those enacted with an invidious, the United States and in the world." racially discriminatory purpose - is unconstitutional." 4. Voting While in Prison PRO: "[T]he argument that allowing prisoners to vote would be costly and impractical is ethically unjustifiable. Similarly, the fact that prisoners lose many freedoms does not imply they should lose all their civil rights. Denying prisoners the right to vote is likely to undermine respect for the rule of law... Allowing prisoners to vote, by contrast, may strengthen their social ties and commitment to the common good, thus promoting legally responsible participation in civil society." CON: "Prison is meant to be a punishment. A custodial sentence has always resulted in loss of freedom and loss of democratic rights for the duration of a prisoner's sentence. Why change that? The main point of a prison sentence is to show the offender and society as a whole that criminal behavior results in loss of freedom and most of the rights that freedom offers." 5. Automatic Restoration of the Vote PRO: "You should be eligible to vote as soon as your feet hit the street. You paid your debt." CON: "I don't think you reward the franchise to those who commit the most horrific crimes. Full restoration of every right is inappropriate... I support current law that gives nonviolent, firsttime felons the vote after a three-year waiting period, among other restrictions." 6. Voting Before Fines and Restitution Paid PRO: "People should not be barred from voting solely because they are unable to pay back their fines, fees and interest. If we truly want people convicted of felonies to re-engage with society, become rehabilitated, and feel a part of a broader community (thus creating incentives not to recidivate) then our State should do everything possible to re-incorporate these individuals into mainstream society. In terms of being a just and even handed society, it is not fair if thousands of people are unable to re-gain their voting rights because they are poor... People who are wealthy or have access to money are able to repay their financial debts and poor people (the vast majority of people who have felony convictions) are not. This is an unjust system." CON: "We believe a rational basis does exist for the Legislature to deny felons the right to vote until they have completed their entire court-ordered sentences, including payment of criminal penalties, victim's restitution, and legal fees, rather than separating out various sentencing aspects."