With the recent 2020 U.S. presidential election, the topic of voting restrictions and suppressions has come to the forefront once again. One specific case is the debate about whether inmates should be able to vote from prison, and for the sake of upholding the spirit of democracy, they should be allowed to.
48 states bar voting from prison, meanwhile the states of Maine and Vermont, as well as most of the European Union, allows it. Maine and Vermont being states with some of the highest percentage of white people is no coincidence, as banning inmates from voting is rooted in racism and a history of targeted voter suppression.
Black people, who make up a disproportionate amount of people in a country with the world’s largest prison population, are 50% more likely to be wrongly charged with murder, and serve longer sentences than white people for the same crime. A ban on inmates from voting is a ban that disproportionately harms African Americans, who already face other types of voter suppression.
Some might argue that offenders of serious crimes such as murder or terrorism should not be allowed to vote. While exceptions can be made for certain egregious crimes like these, as well as things like voter fraud, it’s important to note that many people are wrongfully convicted of crimes like these and many people in prison are there for minor offenses that don’t make them a bad or unworthy person. The American criminal justice system isn’t a fair arbiter of who is and isn’t a good or responsible person, and so it shouldn’t be the arbiter of who can and can’t vote either.
Universal suffrage for inmates could simplify all of these issues. It also lives up to what America is supposed to be… a country founded on democracy. Inmates especially should have a say about what the government does, as they live in government facilities and are in prison because of laws passed by legislators.
Currently in Florida, some inmates can vote but only after they have served their full sentence, and these voting rights were only granted after a hard-fought amendment passed in 2018. Inmates also halve to pay court fees and fines to vote, which is reminiscent of the poll taxes of the past.
If inmates can’t vote while they are in prison, they should at least be able to once they have finished serving their sentence. After all, breaking the law doesn’t revoke people of their citizenship, and inmates are no less of an American than anyone else.
Jaden Patel // Staff Writer