Should Convicted Felons Have Voting Rights? A Heated Federal Debate

Across the United States, activists have been calling for formerly incarcerated individuals to have their voting rights restored automatically upon release and for greater awareness of felon voting rights. Accordingly, during 2021 and into the beginning of 2022, the Democrat party attempted to pass an act restoring felon voting rights. 

Yet, this act did not pass through the Senate. That said, representatives are still fighting to pass similar motions at the state level as activists continue to push for greater reform. It begs the question, why should American citizens care about this topic? Why did this act fail to pass the Senate? What happens next? 

Why Are Felon Voting Rights Important? 

Most states restrict voting rights for people who are incarcerated. After someone has served their sentence and after any probation or parole periods, individuals have most of their regular rights given back to them. Yet, there are many felony disenfranchisement laws that prevent people in certain states from voting. 

The Democrat party argues strongly that this is a point of discrimination and racism. These laws take their root in Jim Crow, where municipal and state governments passed laws that targeted, criminalized, and incarcerated Black and Brown individuals at a high rate. Still today, the system disproportionately affects Black communities

Often, this becomes clear when African Americans receive heavy sentences for crimes that white Americans receive light or no sentences for. When states refuse to restore all rights to individuals who are released from the criminal system, it sends a clear message that Black and Brown voices do not matter as much.

As this matter slowly comes to light, many states have removed disenfranchisement laws and passed automatic restoration of voting rights laws. 

On the other side of this issue, many consider voting rights to be more of a privilege than a right. If an individual has committed a severe crime, they have transgressed upon society in such a way that they should not have a say in how it is run.

Therefore, voting rights should be restricted or limited. Some states uphold this mentality by restricting voting rights for a few types of crimes and other states restrict them altogether. 

Why Did  The Senate Veto the Move to Restore Felon Voting Rights? 

The initiative to restore felon voting rights at a federal level failed to pass the Senate, as the Republicans disfavored the act. Surprisingly, the main reason for the failure may not have been rooted in criminal activity whatsoever, but in political speculation. 

The Republicans gathered that the Democrats were attempting to garner more votes in favor of their party, in the passing of this act. While millions of formerly incarcerated individuals would be able to vote because of the act, experts indicate that it would principally be Democrat voters.

What Happens Now? 

Although the federal act may have failed, policymakers still push to restore felon voting rights at the state-level. While this is certainly an important issue, there is still extensive work to be done within states that have already lifted voting disenfranchisement laws. 

For instance, many Black and brown neighborhoods originally targeted by the laws do not have adequate awareness about elections, polling stations, or voting options. Thus, even though voting rights may have been automatically restored, some individuals do not know they can vote, how to vote, or where they can vote. 

On the other side of the issue, there may not be a push to remove all voting rights completely from formerly incarcerated individuals. In fact, many people simply want to ensure the criteria to vote is clear and the justification is infallible.

What types of crimes are severe enough to warrant no voting rights? Why is that the case? Like most issues, it may be more complicated than it sounds.

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