The national conversation about felony disenfranchisement is growing this election year, especially since Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s recent action to restore voting rights to over 200,000 Virginians with felony convictions.
The Sentencing Project’s Executive Director Marc Mauer wrote a syndicated commentary arguing that voting is a fundamental right of democracy that should include all individuals, including those with felony convictions.
Why should we permit people with felony convictions to vote? In part, this is what democracy is all about. Voting rights are determined based on citizenship, not character. If we disqualify someone based on a past conviction, what about someone who is openly racist, a serial adulterer, or an athlete who uses steroids?
In addition, reducing obstacles for individuals reentering society benefits public safety, and civic engagement helps the integration of returning citizens.
Think about a person coming home from a five-year prison sentence. He is most likely to succeed if he can get a job, find a place to live, and establish strong ties to the community. If we tell him that he’s a second-class citizen who can’t vote, that can only create barriers to his integration. By extending the right to vote to people who have made mistakes, we can both build a more inclusive democracy and make our communities safer.
Read the full commentary here.