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OPINION: Nonviolent Ex-Felons Should Have Their Voting Rights Restored

by Ibrahim Ahmed, published

Democracy In America

Many view voting as a right, but others view it as a privilege. The United States is a nation abundant with laws that unquestionably deny many citizens certain rights, and felon disenfranchisement is a prime example of that.

Nationwide, millions of felony convicted Americans are denied the right to vote and there is strong correlation among those most affected and the voter turnout in elections.

In Florida, a petition is currently circulating with the hopes of restoring the voting rights of felons convicted of nonviolent criminal offenses.

Decline In Voter Turnout

Ex-felons who are disenfranchised are disproportionately African-American males, which asserts the likeliness that disenfranchisement causes declines in black voter turnout rates. This ban on voting rights of a certain group of people explicitly violates the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

With this petition, Florida intends to join Maine and Vermont in putting a stop to denying ex-felons the right to vote:

“[I]n Florida, roughly 25 percent of the state's black male residents can't vote because of a current or past conviction,” the petition states.

If Florida takes on this opportunity to enfranchise those who lost their right to vote, it could possibly make a difference in the voter turnout of future elections.

Do The Crime, Pay The Time

Proponents of keeping nonviolent ex-felons stripped of their voting rights argue that felons have reaped the consequence of being disenfranchised, and assert that it doesn't impede on the democratic principles on which this country was built.

This sentiment gives them the opportunity of failing to consider implications the issue has on the overall democratic process, especially voting. They’ve committed the crime and as a consequence, they’ve done the time. Isn’t that enough?

No Votes? No Representation

Lack of voter turnout in certain communities is an outcome of felon disenfranchisement. As a result, legislators often ignore or fail to address the needs of underprivileged populations that are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.

Furthermore, disenfranchisement allows iniquity to thrive in the justice system as politicians lack responsiveness and the ability to serve the very same communities in which they hold office.

If this petition gets enough signatures, Florida can restore democracy back in their state, but more specifically, to those communities that are unrepresented politically.

Photo Credit: Democracy Chronicles

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