The debate on whether felons should be allowed to vote has always sparked heated debates from all quarters, each time with a different opinion on the ethical basis of any justification for or against. Emerging as an issue that pus the constitutional provisions in the limelight, many times even the judge made judgment has also left voices of discontent echoing in the judicial space in a hue and cry. It is probably worth noting that currently in the United States, citizens numbering up to 4.7 million, a population comprising well above 2% of adults, have forfeited their right to vote as a result of felony conviction.
Surprisingly, studies indicate that life after prison for felons is never the same again. For instance, for a long time studies showed that up to 1.7 million former ex-felons who have successfully completed their prison terms are still not eligible to vote, despite the fact that they are not under any criminal justice supervision anymore. In order to understand the whole concept in greater details, let us explore the preceding conditions under which one may lose voting rights as provided for by the law.
This was the initial provision of the law upon which judgments were made. However, there is another provision that was adopted to provide for conditions under which ex-felons may be allowed to vote. Latest developments have seen the whole topic take almost a U-turn with suggestions and consequent amendment to make felons on probation viable to vote. Most compelling evidence indicate that prisoners may now vote in the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and Zimbabwe (Fellner and Mauer, 6). Nevertheless, it should be appreciated that different countries, in their own right as sovereign states, have different provisions of administering criminal justice ethics.
It has now been adopted that with one exception, that felons on probation can vote and run for pubic office. The 2002 act does so by limiting one’s disenfranchisement only to the period during which one is committed to department of correction, a federal prison, custody of chief correctional official of another state. However, a person released from prison after completing his jail terms for an election-related felony cannot get his rights back until he is freed from probation.
Consequently, some of the reasons why policy makers have adopted their position for felons’ forfeiture of their rights to vote have been argued in different ways. These include preserving the purity of the ballot box, disenfranchisement should be a punishment, violation of the Locke social contract doctrine administrative bureaucracy and slow pace of reforms.
By all means, the argument that a good political system should be made up of virtuous citizenry has always been attributed to republican frameworks of policies. This is a liberal theory disposition also propounded by Aristotle, Locke and Mill who maintained the opinion that at least some degree of virtue should demonstrated or manifested by citizens of a state as they participate in the political affairs of the society.
In fact, the thin line between promotion of democratic values and disenfranchisement should be evaluated based on character. This is also Plato’s position on a strong character as a virtue that determines good citizens. That it is a good citizen that should be allowed to participate in the process of government formation through voting process to elect leaders who will serve the interest of the whole society but not vested interest of a few.
Notably, there have been other arguments that since felons are on a punishment period, voting rights should be suspended as an additional punishment measure. Proponents of tis view assert that disenfranchisement come as a collateral aftermath of their conviction rather that sentence, but all the same, a necessity. They argue that when the law incarcerate people and take away their right to run their own lives, then why should it leave the with the ability to influence how free men run their own live and affairs of the state.
Another key point that has been used to justify why felons should not have the right to vote has been bases on political philosophical theory of Locke and Hobbes. Arguing that state has a duty to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens in exchange for their submission, the curtailing of these fundamental rights can be justified under instances of state policy violation.
As noted in a judiciary circular, felons who are placed on probation after being confined in federal or out-of-state prisons are eligible to have their rights reinstated only after surrendering evidence that they have cleared all imposed fines and have released from confinement or parole. After this reinstatement of their names on voters register is a bureaucratic process from Department of Correction, Secretary of State, and registrar of each inmates town. Any delay in this process may make felons forfeit their voting rights.
It has also been noted that the pace of reforms, especially reforms made towards restoration of felons right after completing their terms, normally take long to debate. When eventually such reforms are adopted, the period between the debate and the implementation of such policy, if long, makes the pace of reform a reason for felons’ forfeiture of their right to vote.
The right to vote by felons is a complex debate which every divide as different reasons for or against. But it is arguable that after serving conviction terms to completion, an individual has finished his punishment terms and should be accepted back into the society. If the individual was released on assumption that he/she has changed, then nothing else should hinder the restoration of his/her fundamental rights.