Democracy necessitates ex-cons’ right to vote

From blacks to women to the lower class, the United States has a long and egregious history of denying citizens the right to vote. Today, all mentally competent adults have the right to vote with one exception: convicted criminal offenders. Until ex-felons can vote, U.S. democracy will still be incomplete.

Thirty-two states employ disenfranchisement laws that prevent convicted criminals from voting. Fifteen of these states even deny ex-cons their voting rights after they have served their prison sentences.

The history and effect of disenfranchisement laws are steeped in racism. Largely incorporated during the Civil War and Jim Crow eras, the sole purpose of the laws was to prevent blacks and lower classes from voting. Sadly, disenfranchisement laws have the same effect today.

Four million Americans have lost their right to vote. Thirteen percent of black men are not allowed to vote because of disenfranchisement laws. In some states, the effect is especially heinous. In Florida and Alabama, one in three black men cannot vote. That 13 of the 15 states banning ex-felon voting are Republican strongholds, combined with the overwhelming tendency of blacks to vote Democratic, makes this issue especially curious. Not surprisingly, Republican governors such as Jeb Bush wholly support these modern-day laws.

Disenfranchisement laws are not far removed from poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses. While it can be argued that the right to vote can be withheld while convicted criminals are serving sentences, it is indefensible to deny this right to ex-felons who have served out their debt to society. Branding them forever as civic outcasts accomplishes nothing other than hindering rehabilitation and preventing full societal incorporation.

Universal suffrage is the key tenet to a true democracy. To continue denying ex-felons the right to vote is a grave injustice that prevents the United States from truly becoming democratic.