Should voting laws be amended to include convicted felons?I would love sources for this debate topic, on both sides.

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dkaye eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've adapted this answer from a college paper I wrote back in 2007, and the numbers have adjusted slightly since then. I suggest you check through the Sentencing Project's website for updated information.  But the numbers haven't changed very much, and my conclusion still holds: yes, we should definitely let felons who have paid their debt to society vote in subsequent elections.

It is literally written on the first page of the United States’ story that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Although it has never been true that all of “the governed” have been permitted to voice consent or dissent through the ballot, the arc of American history has been one of steadily broadening enfranchisement.   Today, there remains only one major group of mentally competent citizens over eighteen years old who cannot vote: currently incarcerated and released prisoners, or “ex-felons.”

This is a crucial issue for America because it disproportionately disenfranches non-white voters. This a) robs minority voters of the chance to participate in the democratic process and b) unfairly advantages the Republican Party, which tends to draw many fewer minority votes. The heaviest burden falls on African-American men, among whom 1.4 million, or 13% of the population, are disenfranchised – a rate seven times the national average (Mauer & King, 2007).  States are also disproportionately affected according to their minority population and rate of incarceration, and in some states, as many as 1 in 4 black men are prohibited from voting (The Sentencing Project, 2007).   The potential for unfair ballot access increases when states with a similar ethnic or socioeconomic makeup have similar laws.  For example, Maine and Vermont, the two states with the highest percentage of white citizens (95.8% and 96.3%, respectively, according to the 2006 US Census) are the only two states that allow convicted felons to vote while serving their sentences.  In contrast, the states that permanently disenfranchise residents convicted of a felony, Virginia and Kentucky, have considerably larger minority populations (at 19.6% and 7.4 % black, respectively).

These laws, combined with Florida’s sizeable population and influence as a “swing state,” forced felon disenfranchisement back into the limelight in the 2000 election.  In an election that came down to just over 500 votes, ex-felons would almost certainly have changed the outcome.  In Florida alone, 200,000 otherwise eligible voters were barred from voting in the 2000 elections because of a conviction, not including citizens incarcerated at the time. To put it differently, if Florida ex-convicts could vote, they would represent a population larger than the total number of registered voters of Wyoming, Montana, or North Dakota (see 2006 US Census).

belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The right to vote is a major part of the structure of our society; despite the disenfranchisement we all face as our vote comes in second-place to the faceless Electoral College, we still have the right to vote for other legislation and positions. To this end, the people who have the right to vote should be the people who obey the laws of the country. I understand the idea that losing the right to vote can be a major punishment for a minor crime, but I echo #5 in the sentiment that crimes are committed by choice. You can excuse them for circumstance or blame them on society, but crimes are almost always (disregarding accidents and uneducated mistakes) committed by the choice of the criminal. A person who wilfully breaks the laws of the nation does not deserve to have a voice in the electoral processes of that nation. It's harsh, but one purpose of punishing crime is to deter others from repeating the crime. If you serve your time, come out of prison, and have no lasting consequences, what is there to stop you -- or others -- from continuing that behavior?

I will not touch or comment on racial and political aspects blaming one race or party, since I do not have those facts and figures at hand.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have a problem with the term disenfranchisement as it regards to felony issues for the simple fact that the felony was a choice.  I realize in its truest definition, disenfranchisement relates to the inability to vote, but to me it is an issue of choice.  Throughout history people have been disenfranchised for things that were out of their control, while committing a felony is certainly within a person's realm of control. 

I understand the argument of punishment versus rehabilitation, but I also think that committing a felony should carry consequences.  To me a good compromise would be that once a felon leaves prison they would have perhaps a two election waiting period once they are released from prison.  If true reform in their lifestyle has occurred they can regain the right to vote, but if the return to jail they permanently lose that right. 

jovip18 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It comes down, like many prison related issues, to whether or not you believe that the purpose of the U.S. correction system is to correct behaviors or to punish those that have committed a crime.


Losing the right to vote is simply one of many ways in which convicted felons feel disenfranchised.  It is fine to be angry at people who have committed crime and want them to pay.  However, at some point, you have to be mature about the issue.  If we constantly punish and ostracize those that commit crimes, we have to stop being surprised when they can no longer successfully integrate back into society.  Punish people all you want, but at least understand that doing so is going to increase the recidivism rate exponentially as people become conditioned to a certain lifestyle.      


rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I actually attended a talk by several historians on this very topic last week, and I'll confess that it wasn't an issue very much on my radar, so to speak, until then.  When I consider the extreme racial imbalances that exist in our criminal justice system, as well as the number of felony convictions that have resulted from the "war on drugs," and finally the sheer number of people that are incarcerated in this country, it in effect becomes a serious issue confronting a democratic society. It is patently unfair that people should not, upon release from prison, be able to vote. Unfortunately, with the current trend toward suppressing certain communities by through voter ID laws, it's hard to see this changing.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main point that I would make for this is that committing a felony should not cause a person to be banned from society for life.  We allow people to leave prison when their sentences are over and to rejoin society in most ways.  It seems wrong to say that they can never again be allowed to vote for a crime that might be relatively minor.  There should be punishment for crimes, of course.  But those punishments should not typically last for an entire lifetime and should not involve destroying people's right to participate in one of the most important things an American can do.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an excellent subject for debate, and I enjoyed reading the previous posts. I don't see much of a correlation between a felony conviction and depriving a person of his right to vote, but I believe felons should face some restrictions after paying their debt to society. I don't believe voting restrictions should be considered race-related, nor do I think that a convicted felon has any specific agenda that would cause him to abuse his voting privilege should it be restored.