OPINION: Felons Should be Able to Vote

Sen. Rand Paul, regarding the right for previously convicted felons to vote,  once said, “It’s the biggest voting rights issue of our day.”

In the United States, 5.2 million Americans were not able to vote in the 2020 election due to felony disenfranchisement. There are approximately 12 million Americans with a felony conviction on their record. Felons lose their right to vote indefinitely in 11 states; 37 states restrict the right until after incarceration release and/or during parole and probation.

Where do we draw the line on letting convicted felons vote again?

A felony typically ranges from one to 10 years in prison, with more serious crimes going from more than 10 years to life. The average parole time is 19 months. Serious crimes such as murder and sexual offenses receive harsher punishments on voting; however, an individual convicted of stealing a computer, for example, would receive an equivalent punishment. 

The ability to determine when felons can vote belongs to the states. States should maintain this right unless there is federal action, as each state has a unique set of laws and should have the jurisdiction to punish crimes in their states.

However, just because states can permanently take away the right to vote does not mean they should.

It is another conversation to not let a criminal vote while serving time in prison, but the United States’ justice system should focus on rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Once someone is released from prison, the goal should be to rehabilitate them so that they can reenter society in a productive and beneficial way. Allowing previously convicted felons to vote after their punishment has been served can help them walk back into society as a citizen exercising  their rights.

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Isn’t our entire Christian belief system based on the idea of forgiveness? Yes, there is the caveat for repeat offenders, but working towards an easier reentry should be an objective that Christians reach for. Also, the United States was founded upon the idea of innocent until proven guilty; those that have served their sentence should no longer be viewed as guilty.

Convicted felons face many hardships post-incarceration. According to Jobs for Felons, the unemployment rate among offenders is 25-40%

They also must deal with the stigma of being a previous offender while trying to normalize themselves in society. Felons deal with discrimination based off the assumption that they want to continue committing a crime.

This assertion may sound commonplace at first glance, but what about felons who serve their time fully, pay their fines and resolve all their legal issues? Doesn’t that prove that they want to be restored into society? These people have served their punishment fully and deserve the chance to prove themselves worthy citizens again, starting with the right to vote being restored.

Thankfully, most states have already implemented rules restoring this freedom to felons after their punishment. Allowing easier access for felons to vote will help reintegrate them into society. The right to vote is foundational to a free America, and allowing felons post-punishment is a continuation of that belief.

Browder is an opinion writer.

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