The or not these policies succeed in deterring

The
phrase felon disenfranchisement refers to the prohibition of voting rights for
felons who have been convicted of a crime, usually a felony, but misdemeanors
can also qualify. Broadly speaking, felon disenfranchisement belongs to a much
larger classification of collateral civil repercussions, which can be both
formal and informal, that can negatively impact the livelihood of convicted
felons. This broad category includes residential restrictions, gun ownership
bans, financial benefit exclusions, a loss of employment opportunities and
social stigma. A felon is an individual who has been convicted of a felony,
which is a crime punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison. A
felony is a crime that is sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a
term in a state or federal prison. A felony differs from a misdemeanor which is
only punishable by confinement to county or local jail and/or a fine.

Even
though 48 out of the 50 American states have felon disenfranchisement laws set
in place, these policies have increasingly generated controversy in terms of
the impact they have on the elections, and whether or not these policies succeed
in deterring future crimes (“They’ve Paid Their Debt; Let Them Vote.”) Opponents
of felon disenfranchisement support the restoration felons’ rights, such as
voting, because they believe voting is a “right” that is guaranteed in the
United States constitution. They also argue that  policies that disenfranchise convicted felons
subverts their post-conviction integration into society, originates from racial
discrimination and disproportionately bars historically disenfranchised
demographic segments, such as African American males, from participating in the
political process. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 mostly dealt with voting
rights for minorities, but did contain provisions that opened up the debate
among voting rights for felons. A provision in the act prohibited jurisdictions
from establishing tests or proof of good moral as a perquisite in order to be
able to vote.

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Proponents
of restoring voting rights to felons and ex-felons cited these factors as
reasons. However, other observers said that Congress did not intend felon
disenfranchisement within coverage of the act. Proponents of felon
disenfranchisement are against the idea of letting felon’s engage in certain
activities such as voting because they have a propensity to have bad judgment
because not abiding by the law is what got them into that predicament in the
first place. They believe that People who commit serious crimes have shown that
they are not trustworthy. Proponents of felon disenfranchisement also hold the
belief that these policies are helpful when it comes to deterring crime.
Deterrence is the action of discouraging an action or event through instilling
doubt or fear of the consequences. According to these people, Prison was
intended 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, and that’s something that shouldn’t be changed. The entire point of a
prison sentence is to show the wrongdoer and society at large that participating
in criminal activity will result in the loss of freedom, and most of the rights
that freedom has to offer.

            The United States of America is one
of the strictest nations in the entire world when it comes to denying its
citizens the right to vote due to their criminal status. A whopping 5.85 million
Americans are unable to vote because of felon disenfranchisement laws that
restrict the voting rights for those convicted of felonies (“5.85 Million
People Who Can’t Vote But Can They Still Complain?”).  Roughly 2.5 percent of the total United States
voting population – 1 out of every 40 adults – is barred from voting due to a
current or previous felony conviction. Ex-felons who reside in the eleven
states that have opted to disenfranchise individuals after they have successfully
completed their sentences account for roughly 45 percent of the entire
disenfranchised population, amounting to just over 2.6 million people. Felon
disenfranchisement also has an unpalatable racial dynamic, with 1 out of every
13 African Americans of voting age barred from voting, an alarming rate that is
more than four times greater than non-African Americans (“6 million citizens,
including 1 in 13 African Americans, are blocked from voting because of
felonies”). Nearly 7.7 percent of the Adult African American population in the
United States is disenfranchised, compared to just 1.8 percent of the
non-African American population. State laws that bar nearly six million people
with felony convictions from voting trace all the way back to the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, when Southern lawmakers were working tirelessly to neutralize
and disenfranchise the black electorate. The use of poll taxes, literacy tests,
grandfather clauses, and cross burnings were effective methods of deterring the
African American vote.

            Even
though felon disenfranchisement has been a corner stone of the United States
ever since its commencement a long time ago, the indignation over this
procedure has garnered significant momentum in recent years. The reason felon
disenfranchisement laws has generated a new found interest among the American
people can be traced all the way back to the controversial 2000 presidential
election. This presidential election was the closest in the history of the
United States, and it resulted in President George W. Bush winning the election
while simultaneously losing the popular vote, an extremely rare instance that
also occurred during the recent 2016 election. The election was so compact that
the result hinged on one extremely critical swing state: Florida. The
Republican nominee, George W. Bush, ultimately won the state of Florida by
garnering fewer than 1,000 more votes than the Democratic nominee Al Gore. Some
political analysts believed that if felons were allowed to vote in that
election, Al Gore would have gone on to become the forty-third President of the
United States. In the year 2000, over 4.5 million Americans, were barred from
voting because of disenfranchisement policies. Moreover, in the state of
Florida alone, there were as many as 620,000 citizens who weren’t allowed to
vote because of felon disenfranchisement laws.

This
racially rooted framework has normalized disenfranchisement in the United
States. It has expunged one in every 13 African American persons of the right
to participate in the political process through voting – a rate that is four
times that of non-blacks nationwide. It has also allowed disenfranchisement to
move beyond the black population, into the body of politics as a whole. In the
last 40 years, as a result of the substantial expansion of the United States
criminal justice system, felon disenfranchisement laws have significantly
affected the political voices of a wide array of American communities. The
momentum that has been directed towards reformation of these policies has been primarily
based on a reconsideration of their shrewdness in fulfilling legitimate
correctional objectives and the interests of full democratic participation. It
is a wide known lesson that punishments that are designed to subjugate and
disenfranchise one demographic group can be easily replicated and expanded to
include other groups as well.  Even
though felon disenfranchisement policies have been challenged and opposed in
state and federal courts, these efforts have proven to be futile, as none have
been resoundingly successful. Disheartening while unsurprising, this has put
the United States in a peculiar position compared to the policies of most
industrialized countries with advanced economies. Not only does the United
States imprison more people than virtually almost any other country earth, the
United States is also part of a small contingent that restricts the voting
rights of individuals convicted of a crime that is completely unrelated to
voting.

One
of the most remarkable—yet disappointing realities of felon disenfranchisement
is the fact that, in fourteen states, ex-offenders who have fully served and
completed their prison sentences nevertheless remain disenfranchised. Ten of
these states disenfranchise ex-felons for the entirety of their lives: Alabama,
Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia,
and Wyoming. Arizona and Maryland permanently disenfranchise individuals who
are convicted of a second felony; and Tennessee and Washington imposes a
permanent punishment for individuals who were convicted prior to 1986 and 1984
(Should felons be allowed to vote?). Additionally, in Texas, a convicted felon
is not eligible for voting privileges restoration until two years after
discharge from prison, probation or parole.

The
disenfranchisement of ex-felons is foisted even if the wrongdoer was convicted
of a relatively minor crime or even if the felon had never been previously
incarcerated. To give an example of real life repercussions of these policies,
In the United States Supreme Court Case Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 1974
Abran Ramirez was banned from voting for life in California because he was
convicted 20 years ago for robbery, even though he had only been incarcerated
in jail for miniscule three months and had successfully completed ten years of
parole. As a result of these policies, the disenfranchised voter is relegated
to the lowest form of citizenship, is absolutely voiceless at the ballot box
and must sit idly by while others elect his political representatives and while
others have a say in the fiscal and governmental policies that will govern him
and his family and acquaintances. Currently, Maine and Vermont, both
overwhelmingly white states, are the only two states without any felon voting
restrictions; even inmates are allowed to vote (“Felons, voting and going
against the grain in Maine and Vermont.”) Despite the rapid growth of the
disenfranchised population in the United States, several states have begun to
re-examine their policies. Public opinion surveys have all came to the same
exact conclusion. The overwhelming majority of the American people support the
restoration of voting rights, and the overwhelming majority is against felon
disenfranchisement policies that have stripped countless individuals of these rights.
Reports show that eight in ten United States residents support voting rights
for citizens who have successfully completed their prison sentence, and nearly
two-thirds support voting rights for individuals who are currently on parole.
In recent years, increased public consciousness of felon disenfranchisement
policies has resulted extremely fruitful reform efforts, ranging from
legislative policies that aim to expand voting rights to grassroots voter
registration initiatives whose primary goal is to target individuals with
felony convictions.

In
March of 2016, the Maryland state legislature made a move to automatically
reinstate voting rights to felons after they successfully complete their prison
sentence, and release from prison (“Restoring Voting Rights for Felons in
Maryland.”) The change, which went into effect in March of 2016, has directly
impacted an estimated 40,000 people who became eligible to participate in hotly
contested 2016 national election. Alabama’s recent hotly contested special
Senate election had large African American voter turnout, which garnered
national attention for propelling Democratic candidate Doug Jones to an
unexpected victory.  The strategic effort
to congregate African Americans to the polls included targeting newly
re-enfranchised individuals who have been convicted of a felony. In May of
2017, the  Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey
signed legislation that entrenched for the first time a conclusive list of
crimes that would result in a loss of an individual’s voting rights (“Gov. Ivey
signs bill restoring ‘thousands’ of Alabama felons’ right to vote.”). This move
opened up the ballot to thousands of Alabama residents with felony convictions
whose crimes were not a part of this list. After this law was implemented,
Pastor Kenneth Glasgow of The Ordinary People Society, a faith-based community
program founded in 1999 that hopes to create an environment that provides a
continuum of acceptance and care to individuals and their families who suffer
the effects of mass-incarceration, estimates that his group was successful in
registering to vote anywhere between five and ten thousand people who have
felony convictions on their record. In the final weeks leading up to the
election, The Ordinary People Society also canvassed local penitentiaries where
individuals without felony convictions are allocated the right to vote absentee.
An absentee ballot is a vote cast by someone who is unable or unwilling to
attend the official polling station to which the voter is normally allocated.
Numerous methods have been devised to facilitate this.

            One of the most critical questions
that have arisen from this controversy is: what exactly are the rights of
ex-felons? Many of the supporters of restoring voting rights to convicted
felons believe that it is extremely discriminatory to seemingly punish convicted
felons twice for the same exact offense. They hold the belief that a felon’s
debt to society is indicative by the time they spend behind bars; they don’t
believe that a convicted felon should lose his right to vote and spend time in
the penitentiary. Opponents of felon disenfranchisement believe that
incarceration and losing voting privileges would be too much punishment for one
crime. Other
arguments that opponents of felon disenfranchisement policies like to use
include the data from a controversial study that suggests that former offenders
who vote are less likely to relapse and return to prison. Other individuals
believe that barring convicted felons from voting may actually contribute to
recidivism by keeping them and their families disengaged from the municipal
mainstream.

Supporters of policies that disenfranchise
convicted felons have a completely different perspective compared to the
opponents of those policies. They believe that the notion that voting is a
basic and unalienable right has no substance for an argument. According to
them, the declaration of independence explicitly states unalienable rights
include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It does in no way shape or
form mention the right to vote. Each person had unquestionable rights that they
were bestowed to by nature, however the government had a responsibility to
protect and enforce those rights. If someone violates another individual’s
rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then that individual in
return must surrender their own rights to these things, and they must be
punished by society by having these rights removed. The offender has broken a
fundamental social contract, and transgressed the credence of their fellow men.
Lastly, supporters of felon disenfranchisement believe that voting requires
objective standards of trustworthiness and responsibility, and those who have committed
consequential crimes against their fellow men do not meet those standards.

            Despite
the fact that there are legitimate issues regarding convicted felons, all the
studies have come to the conclusion that disenfranchisement is unlikely to
expedite their rehabilitation process. By isolating felons from participating
in the electoral process, The United States does not reap any benefits. All
individuals in society, disregarding their moral backgrounds, should be
permitted to exercise their voting rights. If this is allowed, our community at
large will be represented in the political system. Additionally, ex-felons
should be given the permission to actively engage in their communities by being
permitted to pay taxes and own property. These significant deliberations
require all American states to fully re-examine their enfranchisement policies,
which may potentially pressure society to grant the ex-criminals their denied
human rights and other civil liberties.