Voting: A privilege or a right

The most integral part of a working system of government is the idea of the law. It is restrictive, both for the government and the people. To ensure that our nation is run as peacefully as possible, we are founded on the idea that no one person is above the law. Therefore, when somebody violates the law, there must be consequences.

If someone breaks the law, they give up some of their constitutional rights in repentance for their crime—which means that they do not enjoy all the protections and privileges that a citizen of the United States may. One of these rights should be the capability to vote.

Voting is arguably the most important of a person’s civic duties—we are given the power to decide the future of our country. If we are selective about immigration, only wanting law-abiding people to be citizens, then we should feel the same way about voting. If one can’t follow America’s rules, they shouldn’t make its decisions—no matter what type of punishment they are receiving for their crime.

However, the majority of democracies in the world actually give their felons the right to vote—21, to be exact, including Switzerland, Spain and South Africa. Only 14 countries follow some form of selective restriction like the United States. The most common argument against removal of voters’ rights is that it denies them civil protections and gives the government too much power over them, according to the Yale Law Journal. This would be a valid argument, except for the fact that the highest court in America has already ruled on the subject. In 1974, the Supreme Court tackled voter disenfranchisement through Richardson v. Ramirez, and ruled that removal of voting rights based on criminality is constitutional, according to the 14th Amendment. The Yale Law Journal said that the second clause prohibited voter disenfranchisement, except in cases of rebellion or crime, therefore proving that the government has the right to remove voting capabilities from convicts.

Even with this Supreme Court decision, the specific rights of felons in relation to voting are to be defined by the states, because it is not outlined in the Constitution. This results in inconsistencies between states— though the majority, 28 out of 50, deny any person serving a sentence the right to vote, but return it immediately upon completion. However, in states such as Maine and Vermont, felons never lose the right to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The second most popular template is a removal of rights only while incarcerated – those on parole or probation are still allowed to vote. The fourth and strictest ruling is found in states such as Alabama and Florida, where those who commit a crime don’t regain their right to vote upon conclusion of their sentence. Instead, voting capability can only be restored through the decision of a governor or court. However this isn’t fair since these people have paid their dues, so they should regain their vote.

It’s simple enough: when someone commits a crime they must pay for their actions. This should include a loss of voting capability, but once their payment is made, they should enjoy all their rights—but not before. Even though the states make this decision, we need a national consensus to ensure fair and equal treatment in all 50 states, and removing voting rights for all criminals serving a sentence seems to be the most logical solution.

Illustration by Jacob Fulton


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