Restoring the Voting Rights of Ex-felons

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryIt is pretty well known that usually once someone is convicted of a felony and is serving time in prison, that person usually loses their voting rights. The only two exceptions are the states of Maine and Vermont where a person never loses their voting rights even in prison. However, the loss of voting rights in and after prison varies wildly from state to state. In Illinois, for example, a person regains their voting rights automatically after they are freed. On the other hand, a person imprisoned and then released in Iowa still does not regain their voting rights even years after doing their sentence. Such people have to receive an official pardon from the state’s governor in order to have their voting rights restored. Eleven other states are like Iowa. They are Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. So we have many people who have lost an important right even after serving their sentence and having been released. In my view, this is punishing a person twice for the same crime. Worse, it is a cruel and unusual punishment.

Since the Voting Rights Act was badly weakened by U.S. Supreme Court decisions, it has largely been the states that have had to pass legislation and define who has the right to vote and who does not. But like health care, the protection of a person’s voting rights are not uniform. In the states mentioned above, an ex-felon has to contend with trying to restore his/her voting rights. They have to petition in the state they might be living in (one which does not restore voting rights automatically) to have their voting rights restored. They might succeed, but the odds are they will fail. Sadly, state government bureaucrats are not all that sympathetic to ex-felons. But to take away a person’s voting rights forever is, in my opinion, unacceptable. Restoring such rights does no harm to society, and more than anything else will help an ex-felon become a part of society again. Is it possible for an ex-felon to move to another state where their voting rights may be restored? Yes, that can be done, but the problem is that nine times out of ten such a person has no money and resources to move and are stuck where they are.

It is too bad that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was in fact weakened by the U.S. Supreme Court case Shelby County vs Holder of 2013. The court ruled five to four that Section 4(b), the mechanism for enforcement of this federal statute, was declared unconstitutional and therefore cannot be enforced by the U.S. government. The enforcement of voting rights therefore has fallen to the states, with disastrous results as we can see. In many ways the refusal of some state to restore the voting rights of ex-felons seems to be part of voter suppression some states are practicing.

Comments are closed.