To become a naturalized citizen of the United States, you used to have to answer this question: “What is the most important right granted to U.S. citizens?” According to the United States government, the correct answer was, “The right to vote.”
But not for everyone.
As American citizens we are granted with the responsibility and the privilege to vote. That is to say, we are granted with the opportunity to have a voice and make a difference in the way our country is governed. It seems simple enough, right?
But say you violate your expectations as an active contributor to your community and to society as whole; say you commit a crime. A felony, perhaps. You fight with the help of a criminal defense attorney, reduce your sentence, get thrown in jail and stripped of all of your rights, rightfully and understandably so. But the issue at hand is what happens after you have served your time and you become a free citizen once again.
Felony disenfranchisement is described as “the exclusion from voting of people otherwise eligible to vote due to conviction of a criminal offense.” Basically, those who have committed a felony (murder, rape, arson, possession of a controlled substance, etc.) lose their right to vote. Currently, in 29 states, a version of felony disenfranchisement is upheld. In 2010, felony disenfranchisement affected an estimated 5.85 million people in the United States – the highest number since the 1960s.
Voting is arguably the most critical right—power, really— we have as citizens of the United States of America. It is one of the most important chances we get to orchestrate and cast our personal opinions about what our nation is going to be built upon. I do not believe it is equitable to deprive this right from those who have committed a crime.
Of course, felonies are an extreme misconduct that should be dealt with. And it is dealt with. It is dealt with through jail time, community service, probation, etc. The people who have committed these crimes get put into the system. They experience our justice system firsthand, which is more than the average citizen can say for their self. While violations of the law can say a good bit about a person’s character, it is not to say that those convicted of a crime are less educated, less opinionated, or less virtuous than everybody else in the country. In fact, in several aspects, I would go so far as to say their opinion should most definitely be counted, if not taken into more consideration than the everyday citizen.
How many people really know what they are talking about when they vote? How many people really care what they are voting about? If felons have assured beliefs and judgments, then let ‘em talk! They’ve served their time. They’ve lived through the administration’s jurisdiction. If nothing else, they will better our justice system and tell us what we are doing wrong and what we are doing right, what works and what doesn’t.
In my college statistics class, we live by the phrase, “The bigger the sample, the better.” This is exactly what I believe we should be living by in real life. The more contributions from society toward elections— this one in particular— the more accurately the final choice will reflect what the people really want. Women were not allowed to vote until 1920. Black men were not allowed to vote until 1965.
A country is only as strong as its weakest links. Felons are people too. Felons are people who have made severe mistakes, but they are people with families, emotions and opinions just like the rest of us. They are human. Felony disenfranchisement is an exhausting, living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe in better things.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Writer Julia Spadaro at email@example.com.