Felony disenfranchisement

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Felony disenfranchisement is the term used to describe the practice of prohibiting persons from voting based on the fact that they have been convicted of a felony.


[edit] History

Felony disenfranchisement laws were passed by many Southern states following the Civil War. At the time, the responsible legislators were fairly explicit in their intent that these laws would be used to disenfranchise African-Americans who had recently been freed from slavery. Unlike most other laws that burden the right of citizens to vote based on some form of social status, felony disenfranchisement laws have been held to be constitutional. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution permits the right to vote to be taken away from those convicted of rebellion "or other crime."

The United States Supreme Court has generally upheld felony disenfranchisement laws, but has at the same time struck down those that were clearly directed at affecting particular racial groups, or which allowed disenfranchisement based on the commission of acts so minor that they could not be classified as felonies.

[edit] Current Application

Today, only five states continue to impose a life-long denial of the right to vote to all citizens with a felony record, absent some extraordinary intervention by the Governor or State legislature. These are Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia. Eight other states disenfranchise ex-felons for various lengths of time following the completion of their probation or parole. Almost every state prohibits felons from voting while incarcarated, on probation, or on parole.

[edit] Arguments

[edit] Pro-felony disenfranchisement

Proponents of felony disenfranchisement contend that felonies are, by definition, serious crimes, and that persons who commit felonies have 'broken' the social contract, and have thereby given up their right to participate in a civil society. Proponents may view disenfranchisement as simply being another form of punishment for the crime committed, or a deterrant to future crime. Some argue that felons have shown poor judgment, and that they should therefore not have a voice in the political decision-making process. Others go so far as to draw this concept to what is deemed to be its logical ultimate conclusion: that a wealthy person who commits a felony should also be deprived of all of their property, in order to prevent them from participating in the political process financially.

[edit] Anti-felony disenfranchisement

Opponents point to empirical evidence that the relatively small proportion of ex-felons who do participate in the political process by voting are less likely to return to crime. They note that felony disenfranchisement is often accompanied by other deprivations of civil rights, such as the ability to work in certain professions, which make it harder for former convicts to lead productive lives. Some also contend that it may be cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, to sentence someone to a lifelong prohibition from voting based on a singly felony conviction. They point to instances of teenagers being convicted of relatively minor crimes which can still be classified as felonies, like trespassing on a construction site or stealing a stop sign, and argue that the law should not operate to deprive them of fundamental rights that they might not appreciate until many years later. Some contend that the right to vote is such a fundamental protection against potential government tyranny that is should never be deprived, no matter the circumstances.

[edit] Felony conviction thresholds affected by inflation

One aspect of this issue which bears upon the above arguments is the fact that various property crimes can have dollar amount thresholds, which, if exceeded, turn a misdemeanor into a felony. For example, in Massachusetts under penalties specified in MGL Chap. 266: Sec. 127 [1], a prosecution for malicious destruction of property can result in a felony conviction, if the dollar amount of damage exceeds $250 [2] [3]. Some people would argue that $250 is excessively low and since this dollar amount has not risen for many years, even damaging another's a radio or cell phone could now result in losing one's right to vote. By example, because of inflation a threshold which was set at $250 in 1995, at 5% Inflation, would be met by $150 (in 1995 dollars) today (2005) and $116 in year 2009. If the dollar thresholds are not increased by law (or indexed to Inflation), a conviction for what is effectively very little money, could result is losing one's right to vote.

[edit] External links

The Sentencing Project page on Felony Disenfranchisement

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