With the midterm elections quickly approaching, many political issues — from abortions to taxes — are being argued, dissected and voted on. However, the issue that is most pushed to the forefront by the election may be the question of who can actually vote in them, specifically those who may have the right revoked, such as felons.
We, at the Editorial Board of the Technique, believe that felons should be able to vote, including during the period of their incarceration. Before we even begin to discuss the issue of the voting rights of felons, we would first like to recognize the wide disparity between the different crimes that are considered felonies in different states.
For example, earlier this year in Monroe County, Fla., two men were charged with a felony violation for how they harvested lobsters. On the other end of the spectrum, crimes like murder, rape and arson are also classified under the same umbrella. The legal system of the United States does not encourage strong discretion, but rather groups crimes into overarching categories, which makes having conversations about criminals difficult to have due to a lack of nuance. Additionally, states have various legislation for whether felons can vote, ranging from permanent disenfranchisement to having the right to vote while incarcerated.
Furthermore, the very definition of a felony has deep roots in systemic racism, since felony disenfranchisement did not become a significant barrier to voting until after the Civil War. Moreover, even the current definitions of felonies are often wielded as a weapon of oppression against lower socioeconomic communities, such as the War on Drugs, which played a big part in perpetuating structural racism still seen in society today. Due to the underlying systemic racism of how the government persecutes and punishes crimes, especially felonies, we believe that not allowing felons the full ability to vote, even while incarcerated, is furthering the issue through disenfranchisement.
While working to fix voting rights is only a small part of working to dismantle a flawed system, we believe that is an important part. In addition to expanding the right to vote, we also encourage the United States to work towards creating a penal system that is more focused on rehabilitation than incarceration. The United States has one of the least rehabilitative systems and strictest voting laws, and we also have one of the highest recidivism rates in the world.
After leaving prison, people are left with no support — fiscally, socially or emotionally. By also preventing felons from being able to vote, we are keeping them from being able to advocate for themselves for the change they need to see in the system.
Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of their white counterparts and consequently are disproportionately impacted by the removal of the voting rights of felons.
However, working to give felons the right to vote is only one singular step in the right direction and is a systemic response to a systemic issue.
In addition to giving felons the right to vote, we also encourage a better system in defining felonies, standardizing penalties, having more discretion and building a better rehabilitation system for criminals.
We can work to create a more equitable society, and by giving felons the right to vote, we can allow them to help create it.