Sunday, March 28, 2004

Felons and the Right to Vote

Fighting for Florida: Disenfranchised Florida Felons Struggle to Regain Their Rights

The partisan politics of this issue aside, this is a major problem for small "d" democracy. While stripping felons of their voting rights during their time of incarceration, and perhaps even parole, seems like a reasonable punishment, the failure to automatically restore those rights upon release from the criminal justice system is inexcusable.

In committing a felonious act, these individuals have distanced themselves from the rest of society. A punishment that includes loss of some of the rights of citizenship, aside from the loss of liberty resulting from incaceration or loss of mobility due to parole, is certainly just.

As part of that punishment, though, is a notion that once it has been served, the person's debt to society (such a loathsome term) has been paid off. And, that individual should have his full citizenship rights immediately.

By continuing to deny a felon's voting rights until such time as the review board decides to restore them, the state is extending the punishment longer that contemplated by the sentencing authority. The review process itself is tantamount to double jeopardy and ought to make anyone who believes in the 5th Amendment's protections wince.


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