Saturday, April 23, 2016

Felons' Voting Rights in Virginia

Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia restored the voting rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons. His executive order will "will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote." McAuliffe's action will mostly affect African-Americans who mainly support the Democratic Party, McAuliffe's party. "Virginia imposes especially harsh restrictions, barring felons from voting for life." One of every four African Americans in Virginia "has been permanently banned from voting because of laws restricting the rights of those with convictions." McAuliffe claims that his actions are meant to make up for the history of horrible treatment of American-Americans in relation to voting rights. In the upcoming presidential election, these registered felons will be allowed to vote.

McAuliffe intends to continue to restore the right to vote to felons as they are released. He argues that this renewed right will encourage more felons to become good citizens.

There has been opposition to McAuliffe's actions as there is a "blanket restoration of rights," so "the order includes those convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape." A candidate for attorney general argues against this executive order stating that it is unfair that a murder will have these rights when the murder victim no longer does.

Based on what I have read so far, I do not think that there should be a "blanket restoration of rights." When restoring the right to felon to vote, I think that their crimes should be taken into consideration, even though they have completed their sentences.

Questions:
What do you think of this executive order?
Should felons be allowed to vote after they completed their sentences or did they sacrifice their rights forever after committing crimes?


http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/us/governor-terry-mcauliffe-virginia-voting-rights-convicted-felons.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/04/22/about-200000-convicted-felons-in-virginia-will-now-have-the-right-to-vote-in-november/

16 comments:

Olivia Fong said...

I think that this executive order is a good representation of what democracy really is. While creating this nation, our Founding Fathers were worried about giving all citizens (as in all white males), both rich and poor, the chance to vote. Democracy is always evolving, allowing more and more people to take part in the political process.

As for the blanket restoration, I think that ex-felons should not be judged for their crimes once again. In my opinion, this goes against the Fifth Amendment which states that no person should "be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy." These felons have already been put through the legal process at least once to find themselves being put in prison. Not allowing felons to have voting rights is a continuous and ongoing punishment that should not be afflicted upon them. Additionally, the worst felons such as serial murders are probably going to be spending the rest of their lives in jail, meaning that the most horrible criminals will never receive voting rights again anyways. So discriminating against one felon over the other will be unnecessary as the justice system has already done that.

ETHAN CHAO said...

I think this executive order is totally fair, and helps these felons get back at life, and not feel that their mistakes in the past will destroy their future. There's really no harm in letting them vote, as it's not like they will vote to reduce the police force. Of course, this is an issue for Republicans who will have to face a bigger Democratic constituency, but overall, it's really not worth restricting that right to these ex-convicts.

Nevan Samadhana said...

I agree with with the above comments that this executive order is fair. I think that it better diversifies the voting community and although these may not be the best people, their vote should still count. I don't quite agree that reviewing a persons crime is an intrusion of the fifth amendment, but I do agree with the method of blanket restoration because if a person is released back into the normalcy of society and deemed as "safe", it should not matter what they did because they all went through their given time, rehabilitated or not.

TJ Bonbright said...

Given that ex felons will have served their punishment for their crimes, I think it is reasonable to allow them to vote. The biggest problem I have with preventing them from voting is that taking away rights from people goes against the principles of the Bill of Rights. Today felons may not be able to vote, but what about tomorrow? Where do we draw the line? When does justice become cruel and unusual? I just think that taking away the right to vote is dangerous because of the precedent it sets. In addition, treating ex felons like they are real citizens by giving them the same rights as everyone else encourages good behavior. By taking away their rights, we tell felons that they are inferior to everyone else, thereby shunning them. Therefore, granting ex felons the right to vote seems like a good idea to me.

Jared Mayerson said...

I agree with Olivia that this is a good step for democracy. Personally, I think that everyone should have the right to vote, no matter what their history is. If it so happens that a voter is an ex-murderer, we're not going to have a vote on making murder legal. If a convicted felon has served his or her sentence, I think that they should have voting rights restored to them. Legislative decisions apply to them too and I believe that they have the right to have a say. I don't think there is any reason to permanently block convicted felons from voting after they have paid the price for their actions.

tonynater said...

Prison is designed to reform prisoners. If ex-felons can't be trusted to cast a ballot, how are they in any way reformed and ready to be a part of society? Governor McAuliffe's pardon of prisoners is a step in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. The disenfranchisement of ex-felons demonstrates the fundamental issues with our criminal justice system - that it's designed as a system of punishment, and not of reform.

Sameer Jain said...

When people consider overall prison reform and how to improve the way ex-convicts are placed back in society, they generally look at how the rights and services given to them will reduce the recidivism rate (the percentage of people that serve a sentence and then go back to jail for another crime after being released).

While giving voting rights doesn't necessarily seem to reduce the recidivism rate in any significant way, it does seem like a harmless way to re-integrate ex-felons in society.

I do believe however that at times the criminal justice system needs to be a system of punishment. For example, I completely agree with the idea of a sex offender list like we have right now. There are some crimes that cause people to lose certain rights for the rest of their lives as punishment.

Langston Swiecki said...

I generally agree with the prevailing sentiment that the end goal of the criminal justice system is to reform convicts and that providing ex-felons with the right to vote provides them with a stake in society and the ability to more fully reintegrate into civilian life, but this leaves Virginia with an inconsistency of sorts. By this I mean that Virginia still has the death penalty as a sentencing option, which provides a more extreme form of permanent punishment than restricting the right to vote, and also one that has historically had a disproportionately large impact on African Americans, just as Governor McAuliffe stated that disallowing felons to vote had a disproportionately large impact on African-Americans. Permitting felons to vote indicates a belief in human redemption and change while the death penalty is an unabashed statement declaring one's absolutely irredeemable qualities. Now, I can understand that there is drastic difference in severity of crime between typical felons and those who end up on death row, but is there really such a line between murdering one and murdering many that makes one so irreversibly wrong? I do not think there is, but I would be interested in hearing other thoughts on this relationship.

Rachael Howard said...

I believe we read about something like this in class... we talked about how criminals usually committed more crimes after being released from prison due to their inability to adapt back to the life of a normal citizen. Criminals usually feel like outsiders in society after they are released due to how hard it becomes for them to find jobs and adjust socially so I do think this executive order would help them reintegrate into society and probably lead to less repeat offenders. Personally I think felons should only regain their right to vote if the reason they got a felony wasn't extreme for example I don't think that someone who raped and murdered 10 people should regain their right to vote but I do think that someone who got a felony for driving 25 miles over the speed limit should.

Meghan Hilbert said...

I agree with Sameer that there are pros and cons to this debate, and one isn't necessarily better than the other. Ex convicts do have a difficult time integrating back into society as an average human being, with criminal records plastered all over their self identifications. By allowing them to vote, it does bring back normalcy that might introduce them to better behavior and motivation to be a good citizen. Sadly, it isn't guaranteed, and like Rachel said, there is a high chance of them offending again. It makes me think that they shouldn't be allowed to vote because if they commit an atrocious crime, why should they be able to live like a good Samaritan who has not done wrong? However, NYtimes journalist Ryan Clegg brings up interesting points in his article "If You Cant Follow Laws, You Shouldn't Help Make Them". He proposes that allowing ex-cons to vote should be done carefully, and the state government should make sure to only allow small offenders the freedom to vote. A rapist should not be on the same level as someone caught with a tiny bit of marijuana. It should be done case by case and not just an executive order that allows everyone and anyone surplus amounts of freedom when it was just all locked away days ago.

Daniel Jun said...

A number of people before me have mentioned the idea of prison as an institution of reform. But crime isn't something that people do "just 'cause". Crime is a sign of disease in society, that there is a disparity in what society claims is right, and what the criminal believes is right or what the criminal just plain wants (I'm thinking of mugging here). I'm alternating between the black-and-white morality of "they committed a crime, they don't deserve the vote!" to the gray-toned "I know it'll be hard to define, but the severity of the crime should matter." Obviously the latter is the more moral choice, and one that I personally believe is the best option, but I don't believe giving blanket rights to all ex-criminals is the right way to go. Then again, even if criminals can vote, so what? Are they going to vote for someone who will turn Virginia into a bullet-ridden hell hole? No. Giving criminals who have gone through the system the vote isn't terrible. It just makes us, the cautious and law-abiding citizens, nervous. And as a cautious, nervous, law-abiding citizen, I share in these emotions. I just think that there's small potential harm in giving ex-criminals the vote.

Abhishek Paramasivan said...

I think that the executive order is shortsighted. By allowing felons to vote again regardless of their crime you grant murderers and other people who have committed capital crimes the right to vote which just introduces bad people into the democratic system. As we know, democracy does not always represent everyone equally because of gerrymandering and the overall low turnout in elections due to the mentality that a single vote won't make a difference. For all said and done, people who have done serious crimes or are not in the right mental state could be allowed to vote, when they really shouldn't be. Of course, for felons with minor infractions of the law, this order would be extremely beneficial to because it gives them some confidence that their government actually cares about them.

Katherine Liu said...

Overall, I believe that the blanket restoration of rights is beneficial because it is a way of giving ex-felons the choice of reintegrating back into society. Olivia brought up an important point when she stated that "ex-felons should not be judged for their crimes once again" after serving their time. By continuing to withhold ex-felons' right to vote - a right that holds important historical value in the US - even after they have carried out the punishment they were first assigned, society continues to ostracize them. This can perpetuate a cycle of crime for ex-felons as, even if they want to change their ways, they are not given the opportunity to do so. They will always be seen as "lesser" in some way because they do not have access to the same rights as the average citizen. In addition, it's important to note that this executive order gives ex-felons the right to register to vote. With this, they have to not only make a conscious choice to participate in society, but also take action to do so. Although there is a fear that these ex-felons could misuse their right to vote, judgment of that misuse should come after it has taken place, not before.

Alex Binsacca said...

This is actually a really interesting topic for me because I just finished a paper about the recidivism in english class. Recidivism is the defined as the rate of which prisoners return to prison after serving their time, or being released from parole. Now what does this have to do with the executive order enacted by McAulliffe? Well, during my research the right for prisoners to vote did come up. Many of them have seemed like they have changed after serving their time. They advocate that their records are just the worst mistakes of their past, and they are now just regular citizens who are parents and hardworkers. They state they have served their time, and they now believe that time served has changed them for the better. So they believe after all this time, they deserve the right to vote. After reading these ideas, I do believe that many of these ex-criminals do deserve a chance to vote. Therefore, I think this enactment is a great idea.

However, considering the high rates of which recidivism is currently at, I do not think this enactment is perfect. The fact of the matter is the ex-convicts have been returning to prison way too frequently. 60% to 70% of all released convicts in 2006 returned to prison within three years of their release. Therefore, I believe in order to perfect this enactment, we need to change the law a little bit. Such changes would include, that after three years, if an ex-offender has stayed out of prison, then that individual should be allowed to vote. However, in the extreme cases such as rape or murder, I do not think they should be allowed to vote. In conclusion I think the law is a great idea, and it may help bring the rate of recidivism down. I just think it needs a few changes here and there.
link for evidence: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2886197/

cvandelip said...

I do not agree with the blanket restoration of rights. People who have committed unforgivable crimes should not be given certain privileges. If one murders or rapes someone they should not have the ability to try to vote for what they want. They should have no influence on what the government wants since they clearly disregard the law. However, I understand where the governor is coming from. Voting is a fundamental right and as many people as possible should have the ability to vote. I think lesser crimes like being caught with drugs or shoplifting can be waived and allow people to vote. However, their are certain crimes that cannot be forgiven because they are unforgivable. While I do think people should have the ability to vote, I disagree with this executive order.

Christopher Duan said...

I think I recall this issue coming up earlier this year in a similar news article in the fall. In terms of restoring these rights to felons, this makes complete sense. Their punishments are in jail, and in no part of these sentences are their right to vote taken away. Unless judged insane or incompetent, these felons should be allowed to reintegrate into society. It makes little sense to ostracize them further. They have been punished. This is different than the "movement to ban the box", where felons must admit to being a convicted felon. That has to do with private business and employment, which are not rights guaranteed to every citizen. Good on Gov. McAuliffe on his actions.