Franki and Maddie try to change the world: voting rights for former felons

Not all felons have the right to vote while in prison or even afterwards - it depends on their state // Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.

For this month, we chose to focus on felon voting laws. In all of our columns, we will discuss each political party’s opinion on an issue as well as our own personal opinions.

Facts: Currently, states differ on the exact laws behind felon voting. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in 16 states, felons cannot vote while in prison but automatically gain their rights back after prison. In 21 states, including Connecticut, felons lose their rights during their sentence and parole but automatically gain them back after their parole is completed. In 11 states, felons indefinitely lose their rights or need the governor’s pardon in order for their rights to be restored. They may also require additional action too. In Vermont and Maine felons never lose the right to vote, even while they are incarcerated. This has been a hot topic in debates.

Democrat: Leading Democrats are challenging current standards for felon voting. Bernie Sanders has been particularly outspoken on his view that felons should be allowed voting all the time, regardless of whether they are incarcerated or not. Sanders is the only presidential candidate holding this view; most are focused on helping past felons regain the right to vote after they complete their sentence. Sanders’ opinion on this is not a popular one: only 24 percent of U.S. adults supported restoring felons’ voting rights while incarcerated and 58 percent opposed it in a HuffPost March 2018 Poll. Assisting felons after they complete their sentence is a common theme amongst the Democratic party. Most Democratic politicians support restoring felon voting rights after they are released, not barring previous felons from voting forever.

Republican: The majority of republicans do not support allowing felons to vote while they are in prison, no matter the crime. Surprisingly however, 54 percent of republicans believe in restoring voting rights to felons after they have served their prison sentence, but there is a catch. In states like Florida, if a former felon wants to restore their right to vote, they generally end up paying millions of dollars in legal fees and fines as they fight for their right to vote in court. Of course, these are people who have been incarcerated for a substantial amount of time and generally have no means of paying this money. If a former felon is able and willing to pay large amounts of money for an opportunity to be heard then maybe, just maybe, their right to vote will be restored. 

Our view: We believe that this issue is not black and white. However, people should not continue to be punished for their crimes after they are incarcerated. It is fair that violent felons that have committed crimes such as murder or rape have their right to vote taken away. They have revoked that privilege when they chose to commit such a terrible crime. However, non-violent felons should absolutely have their right to vote restored once they leave prison. They have paid their dues. Most importantly, not being able to participate in government is just one of the many ways former felons struggle to regain a normal life after incarceration. 

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