And in this case, I think we can say that all votes matter.
Because whether you don’t vote, as is often the case with young people, or can’t, as is too often the case with black people, you don’t matter. Politicians on the trail won’t champion your issues. This is why Social Security is still around, despite oft heard expectations that we can’t rely on it, because older people are known to vote.
But it’s not easy if you have to work on a Tuesday and then have to wait in line for hours. Turnout is negated when machines undercount because your precinct gets the old ones, and when electronic machines are designed to be hacked, and people are purged from the rolls without even being told, and without due process, or even with due process, like when we disenfranchise felons.
When we take away what is, by definition, the essence of a democracy, the vote, for any reason, even when someone has committed a crime against, “the state,” we are allowing systemic racists, clinging to power, a path to do what they have tried to do ever since slavery was abolished, and freed black men were suddenly granted the vote (women didn’t have it yet), which is to take it away again. Voting should not be considered a privilege. When we say “white privilege” we’re really talking about rights. Privileges can be taken away. Rights should not. But white people, not always, but more often than black people, enjoy the rights guaranteed by our laws, including, but not limited to, voting. We call it white privilege, but rights ought not be vulnerable to the whims of power, as if they were privileges.
They are guaranteed by the highest laws of our land, to everyone. And everyone should enjoy them.
After the voting rights act was passed in 1965, which outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes intended to keep black people from voting, we saw the growth of a drug war, with disproportionate felony convictions for black and latino men, often for simple possession, crimes that white people would get away with. Around the same time, states started to pass laws that denied convicts their right to vote. The idea that if you commit a serious enough crime against society, you forfeit your right to participate in democracy was not so widespread prior to this. It seems like common sense, but is it?
Next thing we knew 6,106,327 people lost their right to vote (as of 2016 according to the Felony disenfranchisement in the United States Wikipedia page). And prison populations exploded. And the convict population, many of whom wrongly or unfairly convicted, others convicted of non-violent crimes, and still others forced to stay in longer than public safety should require, due to mandatory sentencing, are relegated back to slavery. Prison work forces are allowed to be put to work for free under the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, unless you were duly convicted of a crime. It doesn’t even say “felony.” Now that’s a loophole.
But putting the return of slavery aside, that’s a topic for another post, why even deny a felon the right to vote? Is there not the hope that they would someday reintegrate into society? Don’t we want to keep them engaged at least in one small, important way? Were they not born here? Are they not Americans (like it or not?) The prison population is large now, but is it so large that we have to fear that they would elect one of their own, a criminal, to run the country? We can do that without them, and we have.
If they ever get that large that they help to decide an election, then maybe they should. These are the ones, after all, guilty or not, who have arguably been failed by society. Who better to offer the perspective necessary to formulate a solution?
Some states are moving towards the reinstatement of voting rights once time is served. It’s a trend, and that’s good, though it’s got it’s administrative and financial obstacles, just like the old poll taxes. And even if it didn’t, it’s not enough.
Of all the candidates that were running for the democratic nomination this year, Bernie Sanders was the only one who openly supported the right to vote while in prison, as do I. That’s one of the reasons I voted for him. I don’t agree with everything he stands for, but this issue is important. Mass incarceration has disproportionately denied the vote to citizens of color. Whether that was the goal, or not, doesn’t matter, cause that was the effect. Denying voters goes against everything we should be.
As it now stands, there is an incentive for Republicans, quite frankly, to imprison black people. They know that the vast majority of black people vote democrat (something like 80%). They, therefore, don’t even have to be racist to support discriminatory policies, just partisan. But suddenly you’ve criminalized the color or a person’s skin and denied them recourse through the ballot box.
And then, adding insult to injury, the prison populations that can’t vote count towards the number of representatives those outside the prison are allocated, because representation is based on population, even those who aren’t allowed to vote.
This is like the infamous 3/5th compromise, which people often mis-characterize to suggest that slaves were considered 3/5th of a person. Slaves weren’t considered people at all. The point of the 3/5th compromise was to give the white voters, who lived in slave states, a proportionate number of representatives based on a head count that included each slave as 3/5th of a person. It gave whites in slave states more representation than those in free states. The slaves had no representation.
And now we do that with felons, who are also sometimes, as we can see, returned to slavery, only we count them as an entire person for purposes of the representation given to those who might just as well still be their oppressors.
Bullshit. If the number of congressional and electoral college representatives are going to include prison populations, and others who are disenfranchised, then they should all have the vote.
States can fix this (Maine and Vermont already allow prisoners to vote). But it would be better to fix the 14th amendment to say that in no case shall anyone born in the United States, or naturalized as a citizen, be denied their right to vote. Some might want to keep the exception for treason, but I say why? If you’ve got enough traitors to turn an election, then you’ve effectively got revolution, so what’s the difference? Why give anyone a loophole? Next thing you know, someone will broaden the definition of treason, if you were a member of the communist party for example, or the black panthers, or antifa (which isn’t even an organization), or BLM. I say accuse whoever you want of treason, but let them vote. The vote is not what we have to fear from traitors. What we have to fear from traitors is that they steal elections, by, among other things, disenfranchising people who aren’t going to vote their way. Those are the real traitors. And they’ve been getting away with it.