The U.S 2020 election is less than 3 weeks away and Texas residents, well known for their passionate opinions and patriotism, will be heading to the ballot box. The right to vote is something they take in great pride.
Millions of Texas residents have registered to participate in this right. Voting gives them the power to have their voices heard, exercise their civic duty and protect democracy.
However, there is one group of Texas residents who will not be participating in the exercise: the more than half a million persons who have felony convictions.
Under article 6 Section 1 (3) of the Texas Constitution, and through the felon disenfranchisement laws, convicted criminals are barred from voting.
In 2016, 6.1 million votes country wide were lost due to Felony Disenfranchisement Laws enacted in various states, with Texas losing over 495,928, around 2.45% of its voting-age population. In 2020, an estimated 5.2 million will be barred from voting.
The main question on the minds of the public, politicians, and ex-convicts remains should convicted criminals in Texas, and other states, have a right to vote?
Understanding Felony Disenfranchisement Law
Since the founding of America, most states have enacted laws that disenfranchise people previously or currently convicted of a felony. However, Felony Disenfranchisement Law varies from state to state.
The District of Columbia and the other 48 states prohibit any incarcerated convicted criminals from voting. Only Vermont and Maine permit voting for persons in prison.
While many states allow ex-offenders who have completed their sentences to vote, very few resume their civil rights due to the cumbersome restoration procedures.
In Texas, convicted criminals cannot register to vote. However, after completion of their sentencing, including term of probation, the period of confinement, terms of parole, and pardon, they may register to vote. A while back, we explored how a criminal record affects your life in Texas. Check out that post here.
So, should convicted criminals in Texas have a right to vote?
Reasons why Convicted Criminals Should not vote
Crime causes societal problems while voting is a societal privilege
Prison is meant to provide punishment for criminal offenders. This means convicted criminals lose their rights to freedom and democratic rights accorded to law abiding citizens.
For any crime committed, the perpetrators create a societal problem, and they deserve punishment, which includes exemption from voting.
Voting is a societal privilege, and any convicted criminal costs taxpayers billions of dollars, resources, and time that prevent community productivity. Moreover, crime causes unforgettable pain towards its victims.
It’s not right for a convicted criminal who has caused pain and a negative impact on society to contribute to the states and the country’s decision-making process, which includes order.
Furthermore, in violating their social contract by committing crimes, convicted criminals give up their rights to create societal policy.
Convicted criminals have a history of poor judgment
Most convicted criminal’s sentences do end up with jail time. However, some carry a heavy burden on a criminal’s life.
For example, sex offenders, even after serving their sentencing, aren’t allowed anywhere near daycare centers, playgrounds, and schools. And the logic behind this rule is simple: the public cannot trust their judgment.
Just like it is difficult to trust people with mental illness and minors to make the right judgment call when voting, the same logic should apply to convicted criminals.
The same way Texas residents want to trust their candidates, the society should also trust those voting in their preferred political representatives.
Jail means loss of freedoms
The main point of a convicted criminal getting a jail term is to show the society and offender that any criminal behavior results in losing the rights that accompany freedom, including voting.
However, many with criminal streaks aren’t deterred by being labeled as convicted criminals or serving jail time. Many criminals are repeat offenders, with over 45% of them returning to jail five years after their release.
While we may believe that such persons don’t value their freedom and feel indifferent when they lose their right to vote, the disenfranchisement law acts as a harsher punishment for society. This is because the community loses an extra vote to voice out their needs while the criminal loses a chance to change his/her state.
Reasons why Convicted Criminals should be allowed to vote
Voting restrictions cause unbalanced representation
American population consists of the majorities and minorities, with the latter being more likely to become convicted criminals.
For example, African American males are over five times more likely to be incarcerated and become convicted criminals than their white counterparts. This means that the African American population’s votes become minimized, thus their political interests are un-proportionally represented.
With this in mind, it is crucial to create a racial balance by allowing and providing a meaningful balloting representation for convicted criminals from the minority ethnics. It can happen through the automatic restoration of voting rights for the law-abiding ex-convicts.
Disenfranchisement may become a roadblock to rehabilitation
Many ex-convicts eventually rejoin society, becoming our neighbors. As such, we all hope that our next-door guy is rehabilitated correctly and intends to remain that way!
However, the community does put pressure on ex-convicts to attain specific social goals for them to become accepted, and in case they don’t, they get labeled and rejected. Being labeled a convicted and getting rejected by society can push an ex-convict back to their comfort zone -being a criminal.
The same applies to Felony Disenfranchisement Laws; preventing convicted criminals from exercising their voting rights make them feel frustrated and disconnected. However, when they exercise their civic life, it creates empowerment and forms stronger ties with their community. Additionally, exercising their right to voice out their opinions leads to faster rehabilitation and fewer crime rates.
Voting sets an example for children
Many convicted criminals have children under the voting age of 18. Meaning, these children can’t voice out their political interest unless they do so through their parents. The number one advocate and representative of children are parents, and without voting rights, they cannot influence and shape public policy. Moreover, they can’t become advocates for their little ones.
Children with parents who have criminal backgrounds have a higher risk of emulating them, creating a new generation of disconnected, disenfranchised individuals. Therefore, seeing their parents vote regardless of being convicted criminals provides children with a platform to contribute to society and acquire a positive behavior model leading to society’s betterment.
Moreover, allowing convicted criminals to vote prevents disparities in the communities with a high percentage of children following their parent’s criminal footsteps.
Crime is intolerable behavior, and a criminal should receive appropriate punishment. Almost everyone agrees with that statement. Many others will agree that everyone deserves a second chance. We have explored both sides of the issue, with every side having compelling arguments.
Do you think convicted criminals should retain their rights to vote, or should it become a privilege with the potential to be revoked after committing a crime? Let us know what you think.