The universal suffrage and the belief that every person has the right to express their will through freely choosing their political leaders have always been associated with the concept of democracy. In the United States, every individual who turns eighteen years old has a right, guaranteed to them by the constitution, to vote. Yet, there are certain conditions when legal citizens are denied their rights, and one of them is having a felony conviction. Even though there is no one federal law prohibiting people convicted of committing crimes to vote, certain states impose such a sanction on their prison populations. There are only two states in the United States, Vermont, and Maine, where prisoners are allowed to vote (Shelden, R., & Young, 2020). Many people state that society’s politics and future should not be influenced by the people who commit crimes, yet I adhere to the belief that every lawful citizen must be enfranchised.
The view that prisoners must face disfranchisement is based on the idea that society must be protected from the influence of people who breached a social contract. In other words, an individual who was recognized to be a criminal should face punishment and be banned from participating in the political life of the country and must not affect it through voting. Moreover, according to the 14th amendment, mandatory disenfranchisement can be considered constitutional if a person was found to engage in rebellion or other types of crime (Bouie, 2019). As a result, it can be said that there is even a legal framework that enables the authorities to introduce punishment in the form of disenfranchisement. Essentially, in the United States, the belief that criminals should not have the right to vote due to their anti-social activity is supported by the constitution. Thus, many people share such an opinion and openly advocate for disenfranchisement for felons since they violate the terms of living in society.
Additionally, there is an argument that disenfranchisement should serve as a deterrent and a way to encourage people to avoid committing crimes. Essentially, an individual must realize that their illegal actions will lead to them being unable to express their political will. As a result, the risk of losing their ability to influence the developments in the political realm should stop them from engaging in criminal behavior and must motivate them to abide by the rules. Such a measure also has to demonstrate to criminals that they are not worthy of being full members of society because they ultimately harm it. According to research, the argument in favor of disenfranchisement for felons as a means of deterrence, historically, has been the most popular one in-state constitutional convention debates (Lowe & Miller, 2018). Thus, deterrence can be considered one of the primary factors affecting the decision by states to continue upholding the laws prohibiting convicts from voting freely.
Thus, many people believe that disenfranchisement for prisoners should be applied in the United States both as a way to protect society from those who violated the social contract and as a deterrence. Essentially, some people hold the opinion that a person who openly violates societal norms and laws must be punished by being denied the right to vote and thus influence the development of society. Such a belief is rather viable, and it can be viewed as logical since a social contract provides both rights and responsibilities to people, and if they violate it, their rights must be limited. Some people also propose utilizing disenfranchisement as a means to discourage individuals from committing crimes. Such a measure is also quite viable since potentially it creates an incentive for people to avoid engaging in illegal activities for fear of losing their ability to influence politics.
However, I support the opposite view and believe that felons in the United States must be allowed to vote even while serving their sentence because the country’s citizens should not be denied their democratic rights. The United States is a nation that upholds the core principles of democracy, and preventing its citizens from voting and partaking in the political life of the country is not a democratic approach. Every society is a complex system where different people can exercise their will through the universal rights guaranteed to them by the constitution. Prisoners must be recognized as holders of such rights, and their entire liberty must not be taken away from them due to them committing a crime (Marshall, 2019). Even though they violate the law, they remain citizens of the country whose rights the state must respect and protect. Removing prisoners’ influence on the politics of the country through disenfranchisement denies them their right to partake in democracy.
Moreover, allowing the U.S. prison population to vote would remove the process of prison gerrymandering which undermines the country’s democracy. Prison gerrymandering is a practice used by authorities to draw political districts by increasing the local population by adding prisoners to it who cannot vote (Schoenfeld, 2019). Since the majority of prisons are located in rural areas, such a practice reduces the voting power of the people living in urban districts. Essentially, local legislatures exploit their prison populations to receive more political power while not giving the inmates the right to vote in elections. Implementing a federal law that would guarantee the right to vote to all prisoners in the country would simply cause the authorities to avoid using such a practice. As a result, a more democratic voting process will be established where prisoners will be able to fully exercise their rights.
Even though two points of view exist on the topic of giving the entire U.S. prison population the right to vote, both sides share the same value of justice. Yet, people who believe that prisoners should not have the right to vote to think that such a decision is just because it isolates society from the influence of criminals. They claim that to ensure justice in society, only those citizens have the right to influence politics who have not violated the basic societal rules. While others are certain that ending the practice of disenfranchising felons in the United States is a way to promote justice and ensure that all citizens can express their opinion through voting. They believe that when all people, despite their status, will have the right to impact the society they live in, a more just system will be in place. The two sides respect the principle of justice, but they have different perceptions of how it should be achieved.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of agreement in society on the problem of inmates and their voting rights, a certain solution can be introduced which would satisfy both sides. For example, a program can be designed which would allow inmates who serve sentences for a misdemeanor to gain the right to vote. Such a strategy would not affect all inmates in the country but would still target a substantial part of the prison population. Additionally, people who are on probation or generally not serving their sentence in jails or prisons can be given a similar opportunity. The core idea here is to avoid providing universal voting rights for all criminals but only to those who have not committed major crimes. Such an approach will be acceptable for both parties, and it will encourage everyone to see the effects of granting the right to vote to felons.
Bouie, C. (2019). Tell me again why prisoners can’t vote. The New York Times. Web.
Lowe, C., & Miller, B. (2018). Felon disenfranchisement. In O. Griffin, & V. Woodward (Eds.), Routledge handbook of corrections in the United States (468–490). Routledge.
Marshall, P. (2018). Voting from prison: against the democratic case for disenfranchisement. Ethics & Global Politics, 11(3), 1–16. Web.
Schoenfeld, H. (2018). Building the prison state: Race and the politics of mass incarceration. University of Chicago Press.
Shelden, R., & Young, M. (2020). Our punitive society: Race, class, gender, and punishment in America. Waveland Press.