Should felons be allowed to vote?
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Should felons be allowed to vote?

#VotingIsARight
#CrimeNeedsPunishment
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With midterm elections fast approaching, the debate about whether previously incarcerated citizens should be allowed to vote is heating up. Floridians will have the opportunity to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment which would restore voting rights to roughly 1.5 million residents who have completed felony sentences. Supporters of barring formerly incarcerated people from voting—a practice known as "disenfranchisement"—believe voting is a privilege that must be earned. Opponents of disenfranchisement argue it dehumanizes people who have paid their debt to society. What do you think?

THE VOTES ARE IN!
#VotingIsARight
63.9%
#CrimeNeedsPunishment
36.1%

Denying the right to vote to incarcerated and previously incarcerated citizens has its roots in post-Civil War lawmaking. Per The Atlantic

At the turn of the 20th century, with a white backlash fueling the dominance of a Redeemer government that took power after Reconstruction, white-supremacist politicians began to craft the laws that constituted both the beginnings of a state-codified carceral system, and the bedrock of Jim Crow that was the disenfranchisement of Negroes. To get around the obstacle of the 14th Amendment’s prohibition of explicitly discriminatory laws, the crafters of the state constitution relied on the criminalization of blackness and the penalty of “civil death” as one particularly effective way to ensnare black citizens in the dragnet of disenfranchisement.

Citizens charged with crimes still frequently have their rights stripped from them, often without a simple path regain them after serving their time. In a story about Florida's proposed amendment, The Intercept explains:

In the last half-century, many states have moved in the opposite direction. Though Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow currently incarcerated individuals to vote, it’s just Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky that still permanently bar all citizens with felony convictions from voting. But many states still have other sorts of restrictions: Nationwide, more than 6 million Americans are barred from voting due to a felony conviction. According to the Sentencing Project, more than half have fully completed their sentences, another quarter are under probation or parole, and another quarter are still in prison. While 1 out of every 40 U.S. adults is barred from voting due to a former or current felony conviction, one in 13 African-American adults is disenfranchised.
FLORIDA’S SYSTEM FOR clemency has been mostly unchanged since the 1880s, but it grew even stricter in 2011, when newly elected Republican Gov. Rick Scott issued new rules requiring citizens with a felony conviction to wait at least five years before filing for clemency, including the restoration of voting rights — a process that often takes a decade or more.
Nearly five years after taking office, Scott had issued clemency to fewer than 2,000 Florida citizens, while over 20,000 applications remained pending. The number of disenfranchised Floridians has meanwhile continued to grow. Between 2010 and 2016, nearly 150,000 more were disenfranchised, bringing the total to about 1.7 million, according to the Sentencing Project. 

Proponents of felon disenfranchisement say it is an important part of punishing criminals, arguing that voting is a privilege that must be earned and not an inalienable right. In a 2016 New York Times op-ed, Roger Clegg, deputy attorney general under both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, said: 

The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. The unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in.
The arguments in favor of automatic felon voting are unpersuasive. The fact that a disproportionate number of felons at some point in time belong to a particular racial group does not make disenfranchisement racist, just as most felons being male and young does not make these laws sexist or ageist. And while a disproportionate number of felons are black, their victims likewise are disproportionately black, so minimizing the consequences of crime and empowering criminals also has a disparate impact on their law-abiding African-American neighbors.

The vast majority of those in favor of preventing felons from voting say that the right to vote must be regained upon reentering society. According to Fox News:

Supporters of current law, however, point out that people who have committed felonies must demonstrate they are truly reformed before regaining the right to vote.
"It is important that this form of clemency be granted in a deliberate, thoughtful manner that prioritizes public safety and creates incentives to avoid criminal activity," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said during a discussion on clemency back in 2011.

New York, a state with some of the strictest disenfranchisement laws, Governor Andrew Cuomo has set to pardoning parolees who under state law are currently banned from voting. Cuomo has tried in the past to restore voting rights to previously incarcerated individuals, but his efforts were thwarted by the legislature. In May, Cuomo issued the first round of conditional pardons, saying in a press release: 

"The right to vote is fundamental and it is unconscionable to deny that basic right of citizenship to New Yorkers who have paid their debt to society," Governor Cuomo said. "Restoring a voice to men and women reentering their communities will strengthen our democracy, as well as the reentry process, which in-turn will help reduce recidivism."

Activists cheered the move. Per The New York Times

“If we want to give people the opportunity to successfully live in our communities, we want to give them the opportunity to vote and be stakeholders,” Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said.
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