Citizenship Through the Eyes of Those who Have Lost the Right to Vote

A fundamental right of U.S. citizenship is having your voice heard by voting to elect representatives. However, at least 6 million U.S. citizens cannot vote in the United States because they have been convicted of a felony.

Losing the right to vote is among numerous other consequences of being convicted of a crime. This so-called “civil death” suggests that person is considered dead to society. The larger political consequence is a lack of representation in government of a large group of citizens who are largely poor and people of color.

I study the impact of being convicted on individuals and communities. States have a variety of rules and regulations when it comes to voting rights and felony convictions. In some states, when a person is convicted they are barred from voting until they successfully complete prison, probation or parole. But in 12 states, people convicted of felonies are barred from voting for life.

In response to growing concern that these laws disenfranchise large segments of America’s citizens, several states have recently made substantial, yet controversial, changes to voting rights of ex-felons. This may be a growing movement.

Voting rights and felony convictions

In 2016, Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe took executive action to restore voting rights to at least 173,000 ex-felons. In April, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to restore voting rights to felons on parole.

Florida may be next in line for change.

In July, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about whether laws excluding felons from the right to vote are constitutional. In November, the state will vote on a ballot measure to restore ex-felon’s voting rights automatically upon completion of their sentence.

These decisions will impact a large segment of Florida’s voting-age population and continue to build a strong precedent for other states.

Florida has historically played an important role in American elections. Yet roughly 10 percent of Floridians can’t vote because they have been convicted of felonies. Research suggests that had these Americans been able to cast their vote for president in the 2000 election, Florida would have been a blue state. Studies show that ex-felons largely vote Democrat, and in this case would have made an impact in a presidential election.

By THE CONVERSATION
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