When looking back at the founding of the United States, there’s one phrase that comes to mind which most Americans are familiar with: no taxation without representation.
Unfortunately, there are over six million Americans who pay taxes but are barred from exercising a fundamental right, the right to vote, protected under the U.S. constitution. Those Americans are felons, who are subject to felon disenfranchisement laws.
Some folks argue that they forfeited their right to vote due to the actions they took which landed them in prison. Others would argue that they are not the best suited people to have that right to vote. Are they educated enough? Do they have the best judgement?
Those arguments essentially say that because those individuals did something wrong, their right to vote should be taken away. That baggage should not follow them for the rest of their lives solely because they made one mistake.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that barring felons from voting is a public safety issue: “We’re talking about murderers, rapists, robbers, terrorists and even spies. Do we want to see convicted terrorists who seek to destroy this country vote in elections?”
Not only is McConnell’s argument against felons voting a ridiculous one, it should also be obvious that terrorists are not voting in our elections, given their goal is to make a violent, deadly point.
The senator’s argument is a grave misrepresentation of those incarcerated for felony crimes, as a November 2010 statistic by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found only 18 percent of all felony convictions were for a violent crime. That is less than a quarter of all felony convictions.
The majority of those convictions are for property or drug crimes. Our society is telling ex-felons that once they serve their time, it is expected that they find a job, that they pay taxes, that they take care of their families and be good citizens, yet they can’t vote.
Their citizenship has not been revoked, they are still Americans, they contribute to society even with the label of being an ex-felon. Taking away their right to vote is telling those Americans, no, you are not a citizen as you cannot exercise the same rights as everyone else.
Although many states do have laws which give felons the right to vote once their time has been served, there is one state whose felony disenfranchisement laws are absurd and backward: Florida.
One and a half million citizens in Florida, nearly ten percent of their electorate, is barred from voting. To make matters worse, a majority of those citizens are disproportionately African Americans.
After the Civil War, Florida enacted a law which stripped felons of their voting rights. The Governor, Rick Scott, has the power to restore those rights but chooses not to.
Scott implemented a plan which requires ex-felons to wait a period of five to seven years just to be able to apply to have their voting rights restored. This archaic process also makes ex-felons plead their case in front of a clemency court made up of his cabinet officials. Scott has quite literally said “We make decisions based on our own beliefs, we make these decisions based on how we feel.”
This abhorrent example of felony disenfranchisement laws is un-American, insulting and highlights a broken system which needs to be fixed.