Argument: Depriving prisoners a vote perpetuates disenfranchisement/racism

Issue Report: Prisoners right to vote


Robert Drinan, a professor of law at Georgetown University. “Let Prisoners Keep The Right To Vote”. Boston Globe. July 14, 2000 – Disenfranchisement laws in the United States are a vestige of medieval times when offenders were banished or suffered civil death. Laws in Southern states banning former prisoners from voting were enacted in the late 1800s amid clear signs of racism. In the literature about America’s shameful exclusion of almost 4 million citizens from the ballot box there is virtually no one who offers any rational justification for this anomaly almost unknown in any other nation. The practice clearly does not promote the reintegration of the offender into society. The denial of the vote to ex-convicts goes against all trends in the past century that extended the vote to women, blacks, and 18-year-olds.

The denial of the right to vote to former prisoners shares the dark history of literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses. The goal of universal suffrage has been central to America for well over a century.

One would think that denying the vote to any former convict is illegal. But the 14th Amendment provides that states may exclude citizens from voting for participation in rebellion, or other crime.

Te-Ping Chen and Maggie Williams. “Keeping Felons from Voting”. July 9, 2007 – Last month, the New York State Assembly unanimously passed a bill expressing regret for New York’s role in the slave trade. The move was a recognition of the state’s history as much as it was an apology. “A lot of people don’t even think slavery happened here,” said its prime sponsor, Assemblymember Keith Wright of Manhattan.

But it did. Slavery was not simply a Southern affair. Neither were the laws used to keep former slaves and their descendants from the polls. Today, New York’s laws depriving some people with felony convictions of their right to vote serve as an ongoing, painful reminder of that legacy.