Home > Campaign for Stronger Democracy, Electoral Reform & Voting Rights > Restoring ex-felon voting rights: Virginia and beyond

Restoring ex-felon voting rights: Virginia and beyond

May 30, 2013

cantvoteWe herald the news from Virginia: restoration of voting rights for non-violent felons who have served their time. This is a step forward for the nation. Virginia adds itself to the column of states that recognize that a prison sentence should not be for life, and, that participation in all aspects of society (work, family, civic life) actually improves long-term outcomes for a challenged and stigmatized group.

Do a little thought experiment: replace the words “criminal”, “convict”, “felon”, “prisoner” in the text of whatever you hear or read next with the word “citizen” (or “human being” if the incarcerated is not a citizen) and you will start to understand the slippery slope we slide down as a nation. We certainly do have two classes of citizens, as long as certain citizens have the right to vote and others do not.

Virginia’s move is a step in the right direction in two ways: it is another crack in the set of laws nationwide that dehumanize and delegitimize people who have been convicted of crimes, and it adds another group of folks to the rolls of voting citizens. The possibilities only grow: more states, all released citizens, all citizens even in prison. Fancy that!

Kudos to the organizers in Virginia: Virginia New Majority, Advancement Project, the NAACP, SOBER, and others (as well as their counterparts in other states)–your work is vital, and making a difference!

Let’s take the “ex-” and “formerly” out of our lexicon as well. While it serves a certain moral perspective to have “lifetime” sentences, it does not serve society. We can do better at rehabilitation and we should. More importantly, we should not hand our government, civil infrastructure, and our democracy over to our baseless fears. Wardens and local governments with an ounce of wisdom are challenging overly long sentences, solitary confinement, the effectiveness (cost-benefit ration) of prisons generally, and the warehousing of men and women into their senior years for distant and often first time offences. There is a great deal of productive talent and wisdom being squandered for no good.

Witch hunts in recent years for “illegal voters” have targeted the formerly incarcerated in quite a few states, disenfranchising potential and valid voters. The miserable outcome has been pushing our nation into shameful fellowship with an ugly set of global peers whose elections we know cannot be trusted, and in the process embarrassing a nation proud of its democratic history and credentials in world opinion.

We can do better.

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  1. June 14, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Nice article. I study something like this here at Auburn University.
    It’s really beneficial to learn new things from fellow writers and get ideas from new sources. I’d like to use some of this material on my own page (if you don’t mind). And of course, I’ll put up
    a backlink to your site at strongerdemocracy.org on my own blog.

    Thanks for posting.

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