Not Allowed to Vote for Life

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

Just before we went grocery shopping, my wife and I went to the nearest polling station to vote. We wanted to vote for the people of our choice, and so we took ten minutes to cast our votes for the November 4th mid-term election. It was something we wanted to do as part of our right as U.S. citizens, and we did not give a second thought to it. For an Iowa woman named Kelli Jo Griffin, voting has become a major legal battle. In 2008, Griffin was convicted of a drug charge and served time on probation. Normally, when someone has served legal probation or a jail term, their voting rights are automatically restored. However, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad changed the rules in Iowa. Under the new rules, a drug conviction, which is considered a felony, means that a person convicted of such a crime is barred from voting for life.

When Griffin tried to vote, she was arrested and nearly sentenced to 15 years just for trying to vote. At trial, the jury found the idea of throwing someone in jail just for trying to vote ridiculous, and so they freed her after only 40 minutes deliberation. However, she is still barred from voting for life. Under the new law, only the governor of Iowa can lift the penalty. Iowa is one of three states that bar former felons from ever being to vote again. To put it mildly, this is a flagrant violation of the U.S. Constitution. NO U.S. citizen should ever be forbidden from being able to vote once they have served their jail or probation time. Griffin is being punished a thousand times over for a mistake she made six years ago.

The American Civil Liberties Union believes that this is cruel and unusual punishment, and so they have brought a lawsuit against Governor Branstad on behalf of Griffin. One of the most basic rights an American can have is the right to elect those they wish to represent them. No politician should ever abridge those rights in an act of “getting tough on crime.” This lawsuit is not about money or criminal damages. It is about a lady who wants her basic right to vote restored. This right MUST be restored so that Kelli Griffin can truly be an American again. The greatest danger here is that if her voting rights are not restored, then this may give a green light to other politicians who want to abridge this most fundamental and basic right of Americans. If our right to vote is taken away, then any and all other rights under the U.S. Constitution will be under attack as well. This act of being barred for life from ever voting again must not stand! I hope more than anything that Kelli Griffin will get back the right to vote that we all take for granted.

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